The United States has made the first step toward harnessing the potential of wave energy, a powerful source of renewable energy which researchers have been studying for decades.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) issued last month a license for what would be the first commercial-scale, utility grid-connected wave energy test site in the United States.
Oregon State University received that license to build and operate the PacWave South testing facility as the industry is developing technology and devices potentially capable of harnessing the power of ocean waves.
Despite decades of studies, wave energy is still little developed—both in the U.S. and elsewhere—because researchers are still looking at ways to reconcile feasibility and costs in a complex marine environment.
In theory, the potential is enormous. In practice, wave energy will need a lot more testing and technology development if it hopes to become a viable renewable energy source.
Nevertheless, a testing facility operational by the middle of this decade could give the impetus the U.S. industry needs to test various technologies for generating electricity from waves and attract investors in the most promising technology. The Biden Administration’s support of renewable energy could also help with industry innovation.
The U.S. is one of the best places in the world for ocean wave energy generation, according to the Energy Information Administration (EIA). Ocean waves have tremendous energy, and the theoretical annual energy potential of waves off the coasts of the United States is estimated to be as much as 2.64 trillion kilowatt hours (kWh). This equals around 64 percent of U.S. electricity generation in 2019, the EIA says. Related: U.S. Oil Production Is About To Climb
The potential is there, and it is tremendous. Still, the industry now needs to test and possibly show that wave energy can make a difference with viable solutions in the drive for boosting renewable energy generation.
Oregon State University’s project leaders hope to obtain from FERC construction authorization for the PacWave South testing facility later this spring. Current timelines suggest that construction could begin this summer, and the facility could be operational by 2023, OSU says.
“We know there is still work to do to make this project a reality, but this is a huge moment for this project and for the industry as a whole,” Burke Hales, chief scientist for PacWave, said in a statement.
The World Energy Council estimates that 10 percent of the worldwide electricity demand could be met by harvesting ocean energy, OSU said.
The PacWave test facility could be the companies’ place to showcase technology in order to attract investors in their proposed developments, according to Hales.
“Even somebody like Bill Gates isn’t going to pay somebody millions of dollars to do tests that they think will fail,” Hales told Grist’s Ysabelle Kempe.
Innovation and testing of devices could unlock the tremendous energy potential of ocean waves, which is highest along the Pacific shorelines: California, Oregon, Washington, Alaska, and Hawaii, according to a recent study of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory funded by the Department of Energy. The study focuses on the technical resource—the proportion of the theoretical resource that can be captured using existing technology options.
The study found that utilizing just one-tenth of the technically available marine energy resources in the 50 states would equate to 5.7 percent of the current U.S. electricity generation, or enough energy to power 22 million homes.
DOE’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory has identified “energy hotspots” of wave power along the Washington, Oregon, and California coasts.
“Wave power is a significant, sizeable resource,” marine coastal science advisor Simon Geerlofs says. Yet, he noted that wave energy still has challenges to overcome, including big hurdles like ensuring durability and efficiency of wave energy converters and cost-competitiveness with other energy resources.
By Tsvetana Paraskova for Oilprice.com
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