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Energy from the Ocean’s Waves

Wave energy technology is about at the same stage as solar and wind power in the 1980s.

America could, according to a recent report, get 20 percent of its energy needs from waves if its coasts without encroaching on marine preserves. The U.S. Navy has established a test site in Hawaii which it hopes can eventually be used to produce clean, renewable energy for offshore fueling stations for its fleet, as well as electricity for coastal communities. Joseph Bryan, a deputy assistant secretary of the Navy, explained the project to the press: “More power from more places translates to a more agile, more flexible, more capable force. So we are always looking for new ways to power the mission.”

Since Hawaii is known for its powerful ocean waves, developers are working to come up with the best design. Some buoys capture the side of the up-and-down motion of the waves, while others catch the side-to-side movement. Experts have decided that a machine that use all the ocean’s movement is the most likely to succeed. The machinery has to be able to withstand powerful storms and the corrosive effect of salt water. And they have to design something that can stay in the water for a long time but be able to survive.

Wave energy technology is about at the same stage as solar and wind power in the 1980s. Both received a substantial government investment that helped them compete with fossil fuels. But while the US government and the military have put $334 million into marine energy research in the past decade, Europe has invested more than $1 billion according to the Marine Energy Council. The European Maritime Energy Center in Scotland already has 14 grid-connected berths that have housed dozens of wave and tidal energy devices from around the world. The Wave Hub in England also has several such berths and China has been testing units at sea.

The company working with the US Navy plans a version that can generate at least 500 kilowatts, enough to power hundreds of homes.

Test sites run by other researchers are being planned in Oregon and California to take advantage of the powerful waves that pound the US West Coast. One of those, Calwave, run by California Polytechnic State University, will provide utility scale power to Voundenberg Air Force Base.