Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Oregon Company Delivers Hydrokinetic Power to Hawaiian Naval Base

By Joni Sliger, Energy Fellow
A wave power device off the coast of Scotland.
Credit: Ocean Power Technologies

September has been a great month for offshore renewables. Earlier this month, construction was completed on the U.S.’s first offshore wind farm at Block Island, Rhode Island. More recently, at a naval test site for hydrokinetic power in Hawaii, Portland-based company, Northwest Energy Innovations (NEI), connected its wave power device to a nearby military base and the local grid, achieving another first for the nation. Hydrokinetic power is now generating electricity for the grid.

Like the Block Island Wind Farm, Hawaii’s new tidal power plant is a small project with only two test buoys. One buoy designed by a Norwegian company generates about 4 kW. NEI’s buoy, the Azura, can power about a dozen homes by generating up to 18 kW from wave energy. Like an iceberg, the tidal power generator hides most of its mass underwater, exposing only 12 of its 62-foot length. NEI plans to enlarge its design for a larger generator capable of generating over 500 kW and powering a few hundred homes.

Hawaii offers a welcoming market for new renewable energy. Like many islanders, including the Block Islanders I mentioned in my last post, Hawaiians face high electricity prices. In fact, Hawaii has the highest electricity rates in the U.S. at a whopping $0.33/kWh, more than three times the national average. Facing high rates from reliance on imported fossil fuels, Hawaiian legislators last year passed laws to increase the islands’ Renewable Portfolio Standard, establishing “the most aggressive clean energy goal in the country.” Hawaii now aims to obtain 100% of its electricity from renewable energy sources by 2045.

The Solutions Project, which analyzed how countries and all fifty United States could reach 100% renewables, suggests Hawaii should obtain 2% of its electricity from tidal turbines and wave power devices by 2050. To achieve this, the state needs another 326 MW from tidal and wave power. That would be about 652 of NEI’s proposed 500 kW devices.

Alternatively, Hawaii could follow Scotland’s example as the world leader in tidal power. Construction has begun on the MeyGen project, a tidal energy farm capable of generating up to 398 MW, off Scotland’s coast. This project aims to be the world’s first large-scale tidal energy farm.

Unfortunately, political debate has cast doubts on the MayGen project’s financial viability, since the United Kingdom reduced its renewable energy subsidies after it decided to withdraw from the E.U. in the so-called “Brexit” vote. Without the subsidies, the MayGen project may not be able to install all of the planned turbines. Since Tuesday, however, renewable advocates have more reason to hope for a cleaner future when Prime Minister Theresa May announced at the U.N. talks in New York that the U.K. is still committed to tackling climate change, promising that the U.K. will ratify the Paris deal.

Climate change continues to rock the global boat, but by investing in clean, low-emission renewable energy sources like tidal and wave power, we can better weather the storm.

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