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Here at the Citizens’ Utility Board we’re keeping an eye on emerging renewable energy technologies. In 2007, we supported the legislative effort to pass SB 838, a renewable portfolio standard that requires Oregon’s largest utilities to purchase at least 25% of their power from renewable sources by 2025. In addition to well-known technologies like solar, wind, and hydropower, the law allows for energy from the ocean, geothermal sources, and biomass to be used to meet the standard. Over the next few weeks, we’re going to take a look at some of these lesser-known renewable technologies on our blog. Last week we were fortunate to spend some time with Jason Busch of the Oregon Wave Energy Trust (OWET), so in this post we are going to explore the potential for ocean energy off Oregon’s coast.
One important note about ocean energy is that this technology is still in the research and development phase. While off-shore wind farms generate hundreds of megawatts of electricity today, the same cannot be said for wave energy. From 2004-2009, approximately six prototype devices were demonstrated around the world, two of which were deployed off the Oregon coast. In this early stage of development even the design of these devices is uncertain. Much like wind turbines thirty years ago, when manufacturers were not sure how many or what type of blades produce the most power, today we do not know what ocean energy technology will prove the most efficient. This presents a great opportunity for entrepreneurs interested in developing ocean power, many of whom are located in Oregon.
Oregon is uniquely positioned to lead the nation and the world in wave energy development. The waves off the Oregon coast are among the strongest anywhere in the lower 48 states. Also, Oregonians live on the coast, which means that there is a market for power close to shore. When wave power production exceeds the needs of Oregon’s coastal communities, the surplus electricity can be sent inland. Much of the Oregon coast’s electric infrastructure was built to support the timber industry, and due to the decline in the industry, it is currently underutilized. Consequently, power can be sent inland from Oregon’s coast without the need for a costly expansion of transmission capacity.
On top of its kinetic potential, Oregon has the research expertise needed to be a worldwide leader in wave energy production. The National Marine Renewable Energy Center has wave power testing and research facilities at Oregon State University. A wave pool suitable to test buoys is currently in operation, and the only domestic in-ocean facility suitable for testing full-sized buoys is in the planning stages.
Another reason Oregon is positioned to lead the wave energy industry is that the state has a strong track record of support for innovative renewable energy projects. Oregonians started numerous community-based projects to promote renewable energy and many clean tech companies, from start-ups to the North American headquarters of multi-national companies, are based here. Today the state provides incentives for ocean energy through the Oregon Wave Energy Trust.
Ocean energy is a renewable resource because it utilizes the continuous surge of the waves or tides to produce electricity. This continuous surge of waves can provide a consistent source of energy. Consistent energy is a more valuable form of electricity than intermittent electricity, such as energy from wind turbines that only generate power when the wind blows. Oregon’s continuous wave surges can be harnessed by several different technologies.
One, called a point absorber, is a device that consists of a floating structure with components that move relative to each other due to wave action. Over five days in September 2008, Columbia Power Technologies, a Corvallis-based company, tested a absorber buoy off the coast of Newport. Columbia Power Technologies is currently testing another prototype in the Puget Sound.
The Pacific Northwest Generating Cooperative, recognizing the potential to spur development in the coastal communities it serves, recently signed up to purchase power from a point absorber project off Reedsport, Oregon. This project, the first domestic commercial-scale ocean energy project, will utilize point absorbers designed by Ocean Power Technologies and built by Oregon Iron Works in Clackamas, OR. Ocean Power Technologies is also in the early stages of developing a wave power production facility off the coast of Coos Bay, Oregon.
Other types of ocean energy technologies are being investigated for use in Oregon’s territorial waters. The “oyster” is a system is mounted to the seafloor. As the oyster pivots, water in a tube is pressurized and sent through a turbine located on-shore (see video for a description of this technology).
This technology was developed by Aquamarine Power, a Scottish company whose North American operations are based in Newport, OR. Aquamarine Power is currently investigating the feasibility of installing a system to provide power to the Central Lincoln People’s Utility District and the Tillamook People’s Utility District.
Whether power is generated through oysters, point absorbers, or other technologies, CUB is excited about ocean power because of Oregon’s potential to be a worldwide leader. CUB fully supports the Oregon Wave Energy Trust’s mission to establish the ocean power industry in Oregon. While ocean power’s potential excites us, we’re not currently advocating full-scale deployment of this emerging and expensive technology. Unproven technologies should be deployed in demonstration projects first, and will not be the best choice for Oregon ratepayers until these technologies become cost-competitive with more established forms of renewable energy.