News / USA

    Catching a Wave - and its Energy

    Marine energy developers explore whether electricity can be generated in the ocean at affordable prices

    Rendering of floating offshore wind farm
    Rendering of floating offshore wind farm

    Multimedia

    Audio
    Tom Banse

    One of the newest sources of alternative energy is also one of the oldest - water power. The 19th century water wheel, though, bears no resemblance to the 21st century contraptions powered by ocean waves.

    The wave energy sector has been slow to coalesce around one technology. Quite the opposite. Unconventional ideas are blooming like algae along America's Pacific Coast in a proliferation of creative electric engineering.

    Harnessing the power of waves

    The steady, powerful pounding of the ocean surf at this time of year is a reminder why marine energy developers love the Pacific Northwest. Huge waves crash against the jetties at the mouth of Tillamook Bay on the Oregon Coast. Columns of spray shoot in the air.

    "The wave energy potential is very large here," says Stephanie Thornton, American program director for the Wave Energy AS. The Norwegian company proposes redesigning jetties and breakwaters like these to include electricity generators built inside.

    "It's designed in such a way that it has open chambers on the wave facing side," Thornton explains. "When the waves crash or hit against this device, water fills these chambers and runs into the back where the turbine is. Basically it's very similar to a hydroelectric dam where water just flows through and drives a turbine."

    Wave Energy AS program director Stephanie Thornton hopes to harness the power of the crashing waves near Barview, Oregon.
    Wave Energy AS program director Stephanie Thornton hopes to harness the power of the crashing waves near Barview, Oregon.

    The industry is in its infancy. It's a period of great experimentation, overflowing with creative technologies.

    "Once they figure out if it can work from a technical standpoint, then it's the business side of it," Thornton says. "The economics may be the key issue."

    Innovation

    The Scottish firm, Aquamarine Power, is one of several other foreign companies scouting here.

    Aquamarine outreach coordinator Theresa Wisner recently described her firm's near-shore device to the Tillamook County Commission. Called the Oyster, it's a very large mechanical flap resting on the sea bottom.

    "What happens is a wave comes in from the ocean. It forces the top of the Oyster down onto some pistons," says Wisner. "Those pistons force that water into high pressure water line that goes ashore to a Pelton wheel, which is one of the oldest ways of generating electricity."

    Wisner was followed to the podium in Tillamook by a representative for Seattle, Washington-based Principle Power. Kevin Bannister described his company's plans for floating wind farms offshore of Oregon and Portugal.

    "The design came from the oil and gas industry. So, semi-submersible platforms like this one are not terribly new," says Bannister. "The integration with a wind turbine however is a new idea."

    Yet another company diving into the competition is a Salem, Oregon based startup, M3 Wave Energy Systems. Its idea relies on wave pressure passing over air-filled pillows on the sea floor. The pulses compress air, which can then be used to spin an electric turbine.

    Tillamook Public Utility District manager Pat Ashby has seen even more far out ideas cross his desk.

    "We've become kind of a bulls-eye for world developers," says Ashby.

    Rendering of wave energy park
    Rendering of wave energy park

    Prototype ocean energy devices are generating electricity in Scottish, Hawaiian and Australian waters, but not here yet.

    Coming first to the U.S. West Coast will likely be a bobbing buoy generator next year. Eventually, a field of 10 floating buoys, anchored to the ocean floor, would bob up and down with the swells. The movement creates electricity. Ashby says a floating wind farm also seems plausible near term because wind power is well understood.

    "The others have got new technology that needs to be tested. It's not really existing anywhere in the world right now. And the devices that produce the energy and their ability to withstand saltwater - corrosive elements - need a lot of work yet."

    Winning people over

    Ashby says community acceptance also needs some work yet.

    At the Port of Garibaldi, Oregon, Darren Mobley prepares his boat for winter crabbing. He's among the many fishermen and crabbers who worry about how harnessing ocean energy will impact them.

    "They're talking about a big area around them that would be closed to fishing," says Mobley. "We can't afford to have any more fishing ground taken from us."

    Wave Energy's plans to put electric generators inside the breakwaters is the only idea that wins favor from Mobley.

    U.S. and foreign governments are keen on the sector and are pumping in lots of funds to float more prototypes. But whether electricity can be generated in the ocean at affordable prices remains an open question

    You May Like

    Candidates' Comments Fly Like New Hampshire Snowflakes

    Four days ahead of the country's first-in-the-nation Republican and Democratic party primary elections, surveys show the parties' contests tightening

    South Korea Says North Korea Moving Closer to Rocket Launch

    In phone call, US President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping agree that Pyongyang's move would be 'provocative'

    Australian Commander: IS Changing Tactics

    Head of Australian forces in Middle East talks with VOA about training Iraqi troops, countering evolving Islamic State efforts and defeating extremism

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibiti
    X
    Hamada Elsaram
    February 05, 2016 4:30 PM
    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.
    Video

    Video Genius Lets World Share Its Knowledge

    Inspired by crowdsourcing companies like Wikipedia, Genius allows anyone to edit anything on the web, using its web annotation tool
    Video

    Video Former Drug CEO Martin Shkreli Angers US Lawmakers

    A former U.S. pharmaceutical business executive has angered lawmakers by refusing to explain why he raised the price of a life-saving pill by 5,000 percent. Martin Shkreli was removed from a congressional hearing on Thursday after citing his Fifth Amendment right to stay silent. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Super Bowl TV Commercials are Super Business for Advertisers

    The Super Bowl, the championship clash between the two top teams in American Football, is the most-watched sporting event of the year, and advertisers are lining up and paying big bucks to get their commercials on the air. In fact, the TV commercials during the Super Bowl have become one of the most anticipated and popular features of the event. VOA's Brian Allen has a sneak peek of what you can expect to see when the big game goes to commercial break, and the real entertainment begins.
    Video

    Video In Philippines, Mixed Feelings About Greater US Military Presence

    In the Philippines, some who will be directly affected by a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for more United States troop visits are having mixed reactions.  The increased rotations come at a time when the Philippines is trying to build up its military in the face of growing maritime assertiveness from China.  From Bahile, Palawan on the coast of the South China Sea, Simone Orendain has this story.
    Video

    Video Microcephaly's Connection to Zika: Guilty Until Proven Innocent

    The Zika virus rarely causes problems for the people who get it, but it seems to be having a devastating impact on babies whose mothers are infected with Zika. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
    Video

    Video Solar Innovation Provides Cheap, Clean Energy to Kenya Residents

    In Kenya, a company called M-Kopa Solar is providing clean energy to more than 300,000 homes across East Africa by allowing customers to "pay-as-you-go" via their cell phones. As Lenny Ruvaga reports from Kangemi, customers pay a small deposit for a solar unit and then pay less than a dollar a day to get clean energy to light up their homes or businesses.
    Video

    Video Stunning Artworks Attract Record Crowds, Thanks to Social Media

    A new exhibit at the oldest art museum in America is shattering attendance records. Thousands of visitors are lining up to see nine giant works of art that have gotten a much-deserved shot of viral marketing. The 150-year-old Smithsonian American Art Museum has never had a response quite like this. VOA's Julie Taboh reports.
    Video

    Video Apprenticeships Put Americans on Path Back to Work

    Trying to get more people into the U.S. workforce, the Obama administration last year announced $175 million in grants towards apprenticeship programs. VOA White House correspondent Aru Pande went inside one training center outside of Washington that has gained national recognition for helping put people on the path to employment.
    Video

    Video New Material May Reduce Concussion Effects

    As the 2016 National Football League season reaches its summit at the Super Bowl this coming Sunday (2/7), scientists are trying to learn how to more effectively protect football players from dangerous and damaging concussions. Researchers at Cardiff and Cambridge Universities say their origami-based material may solve the problem. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Saudi Arabian Women's Sports Chip Away at Stereotypes

    Saudi Arabian female athletes say that sports are on the front line of busting traditions that quash women’s voices, both locally and internationally. In their hometown of Jeddah, a group of basketball players say that by connecting sports to health issues, they are encouraging women and girls to get out of their homes and participate in public life. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.
    Video

    Video A Year Later, Fortunes Mixed for Syrians Forging New Lives in Berlin

    In April of last year, VOA followed the progress of six young Syrian refugees -- four brothers and their two friends -- as they made their way from Libya to Italy by boat, and eventually to Germany. Reporter Henry Ridgwell caught up with the refugees again in Berlin, as they struggle to forge new lives amid the turmoil of Europe's refugee crisis.
    Video

    Video Zika Virus May be Hard to Stop

    With the Zika virus spreading rapidly, the World Health Organization Monday declared Zika a global health emergency. As Alberto Pimienta reports, for many governments and experts, the worst is yet to come.