The newest affordable clean energy source that scientists have laid eyes on is the one provided by hydrokinetic systems such as ocean waves and free-flowing rivers. Researchers estimate that this “fresh” source of energy could supply electricity to meet up to 10% of America’s power needs.
Several initiatives have commenced shaping into projects, one of which belongs to a company called Ocean Power Technologies, located in Pennington. The project consists of connecting a test wave energy device to the power grid that serves the Marine Corps Base Hawaii. The next step would be anchoring a larger power system in Reedsport, Oregon, for more testing.
The vice president of Ocean Power, Robert Lurie, stated “We have demonstrated that our technology works, that it can survive in harsh ocean conditions and can deliver high-quality power to the grid,” adding that the ultimate goal is to build “multi-buoy wave farms” generating enough power to meet the electricity demands of nearly 50,000 homes.
Studies and promising pilot projects are in progress in various coastal regions or alongside rivers, such as: Washington’s Puget Sound, in Alaska’s Cook Inlet, off the coasts of Florida, California, Oregon and Maine, in New York City’s East River, along the Mississippi River and elsewhere.
The U.S. is not alone in this pioneering research activity, other countries as Ireland, Denmark, Portugal, South Korea, China, Australia, have been testing the hydrokinetic power for years, too.
Robert Thresher, research fellow at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colorado, pointed out that there are a lot of challenging problems when dealing with water. “The water tears stuff apart. There’s fish, rust, fouling – all kinds of problems,” he said.
Theoretically, America is a resourceful country with somewhat reliable waves and currents, tides ebb and periodical floods, which have a higher degree of predictability than the wind or solar power resources.
Unfortunately, the areas providing tides with sufficient range and velocity are limited to the northeastern and northwestern corners, mostly Maine and Washington, plus Alaska. Other favored regions are the Pacific coast north of Point Conception, California, and in Hawaii.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission reported this month that 140 hydrokinetic preliminary permits for projects of exploiting tides, waves or river currents have been issued, a lot more than several years ago.
The applicants are already marking the locations in case the technology is rapidly switching from prototype phase to large scale production. In this regard, $37 million worth grants have been awarded by the Energy Department to companies close to providing commercial service based on “wavy” clean energy.