Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Oregon Prepares to Buoy Up Wave Energy

Credit: U.S. Department of Energy
By Joni Sliger, Energy Fellow

Oregon legislators may soon provide financial support to a wave energy test center planned off the coast of Newport, Oregon, known as the Pacific Marine Energy Center South Energy Test Site (or PMEC-SETS). After the legislature convenes this Wednesday, the Senate Committee on Environment and Natural Resources will begin discussing SB 285, a bill to appropriate $4.6 million for the facility. State funding will (hopefully) supplement a promised grant from the U.S. Department of Energy of up to $40 million. Optimistically assuming that the federal grant (which is “subject to appropriations”) makes it through the Trump administration gauntlet, here’s what Oregon can expect from PMEC-SETS.

PMEC-SETS will be a deepwater test facility for utility-scale wave energy converters. In other words, it will provide the offshore infrastructure necessary for developers to test huge devices that aim to capture energy from ocean waves and transform it into electricity. As shown in the image above, the facility will include anchors off the coast to which wave energy converters can attach for tests; these anchors will connect to the onshore grid network via undersea transmission cables. The plan is for the facility to be fully operational by 2020. According to the DOE, the facility will be a world-class testing facility with the ability to accommodate up to 20 converters at a time and supply up to 20 MW of electricity to the grid. PMEC’s director Belinda Batten describes the testing as “the last step before commercialization” since testing enables developers to prove the seaworthiness and cost-competitiveness of their technologies. By providing a place for developers to test new wave technologies, PMEC-SETS will facilitate the development and growth of the wave energy industry.

As I noted in a previous post, wave energy is a very new technology, but it has huge potential. According to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, wave energy could feasibly meet almost a third of the U.S.’s energy needs. Additionally, because over half of the U.S. population lives within 50 miles of a coastline, wave energy could be produced close to where it is consumed, reducing the need for additional transmission infrastructure. To obtain significant generation from wave power, however, more projects need to be deployed. Some projects and testing facilities exist, as shown in the U.S. Department of Energy’s Marine and Hydrokinetic Database's map, but not many: only three sites off the coast of Washington, Oregon, or California are currently testing wave electricity-generating projects, 2 of which are off Oregon’s coast.

Oregon is particularly well-suited to leading wave energy development. The Oregon Wave Energy Trust describes Oregon as “uniquely positioned to be North America’s leader in ocean energy” because of the potential energy of the state’s coast plus the state’s nearby transmission system, transportation infrastructure, ready manufacturing and supply chain, and support from legislators and research institutions. If the new industry takes off, it could provide numerous jobs to Oregon’s communities in addition to the many other benefits of local renewable energy generation. To become a leader in wave energy, Oregon needs to enact SB 285 and support projects like PMEC-SETS.

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