The new wave energy converter passes its first major test

Wave energy is an endless, reliable source of zero-emission electricity, if only someone could figure out how to harvest it from the ocean without tripping over cost, corrosion, biofouling, impacts on the wildlife and other obstacles. The latest company to try it out is startup CalWave Power Technologies, which just successfully concluded a 10-month pilot test in California.

The rocky road to wave energy

Wave energy converters are simple, at least in principle. They sit in the ocean, bouncing up and down and transferring the natural kinetic energy of the waves to a man-made device equipped with an on-board generator and a shore connection cable.

In practice, however, wave energy conversion is a tricky business. Among other obstacles is the challenge of floating or submerging a mechanical device in salt water for long periods of time.

Nevertheless, the price is enticing.

“In the United States, waves carry the equivalent of about 80% of the country’s energy needs,” explains the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

The NREL warns that the 80% is a technical estimate and not a practical one. However, the lab envisions an important role for wave energy in the country’s transition to clean energy.

“Waves are more predictable and reliable than solar or wind power, and they could power hard-to-reach places, like coastal communities and remote islands, which currently rely on expensive, fuel-intensive diesel imports. carbon”, enthuses NREL. “Wave-powered devices could also power deep-sea fishing, marine research, or military operations that need to reach deeper waters.”

The long road to wave energy

If you understood these things about coastal communities and military operations, that explains why the United States Navy and Marine Corps have been at the center of the wave energy race. Clean Technica caught wind of the activity in 2010, when the first-ever grid-connected ocean energy device in the United States was hooked up to Marine Corps Base Hawaii at Kaneohe Bay in Oahu.

The base has served as a test site for various wave energy devices since then, but here we are 12 years later and none have taken off and entered commercial service, at least not here in the United States. .

This is in stark contrast to the frenetic pace of activity in the solar and wind energy industries in the United States, which only goes to show the enormous challenges facing wave energy.

Still, the table is set for success. In the early 2000s, Oregon State University established another test site off Newport Harbor in Oregon. In 2018, the Department of Energy and OSU began finalizing plans for a more elaborate sister site called PacWave South, located in deeper water farther from the Oregon coast.

Construction of PacWave South began last year. Grid connection is scheduled for next year and the facility will be fully operational in 2024.

Once fully operational, PacWave South is expected to kick the US wave energy industry into high gear. It is set up for rapid fire R&D. With four open sea berths, it can accommodate up to 20 wave energy converters at a time.

The site is also pre-authorized for a wide range of devices, which will save private sector partners a lot of time and money.

CalWave is heading to the big leagues

Unlike the Hawaii site’s Protective Bay, PacWave South exposes its test subjects to the full power of optimal open-ocean conditions. That’s where CalWave is heading with its new Wave Energy Converter, dropped under the name of x1.

Last week, the company concluded a successful 10-month trial of its x1 at a site off San Diego. The test project was funded by a Department of Energy grant awarded to CalWave based on its outstanding performance as a finalist in the agency’s Wave Energy Prize challenge program.

The San Diego race was intended to prepare CalWave’s xWave technology for deep-sea testing and proof of commercial viability. Apparently it went off with flying colors as the next stop is PacWave South.

CalWave noted that its wave energy device was operational at more than 99% of its deployment and required exactly no intervention, thanks mainly to an onboard autonomous controller system. The system also withstood two storms that were the largest predicted in a 10-year scenario for a utility-scale system.

“Based on the high reliability of the system and the absence of interventions during operations, the deployment was extended from six months to 10 months and concluded as required by CalWave’s US DOE contract,” the company added. society. “The results of this pilot project are essential for the advancement of CalWave x100™ and x800™ utility scale classes of the xWave™ »

Next steps for ocean energy

CalWave is ready for action even before the final touches are due on PacWave South. The company received a $7.5 million award from the Department of Energy to refine its xWave technology for microgrids and other local uses. As part of this award, CalWave will build a 100 kilowatt version for a two-year deployment at PacWave.

Last spring, the company also partnered with accelerator LaunchAlaska. Alaska is a particularly tempting target. NREL estimates that the state’s wave energy potential far exceeds its electricity consumption.

Meanwhile, the wave energy industry as a whole continues to reduce the cost barrier. A solution is beginning to emerge in the form of offshore wind farms that overlap with wave energy harvesting devices. Two-for-one clean power could help save on deployment costs, shore connections, and maintenance costs, freeing up more space for expenses on the device itself.

Last week, CalWave CEO and co-founder Marcus Lehmann hinted that his company was headed in that direction. “Our pilot of the x1 provided us with the critical results needed to move forward on the road to commercialization,” he said last week. “As offshore wind development expands rapidly in the United States and around the world, we recognize the significant opportunities for the co-location of wind and wave farms.

Of course, no mention of offshore wind power is complete without a mention of the white-hot green hydrogen trend. Offshore wind developers are beginning to explore the potential of building electrolyser systems on wind turbines or stand-alone platforms in wind farms. Shoehorning wave energy converters in the wind and hydrogen picture could be a next step, so stay tuned for more on that.

follow me on twitter @TinaMCasey.

Photo (cropped): Wave energy converter courtesy of CalWave.


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