Powered by the Sea?

For years, inventors have dreamed of ways to generate electricity from the world’s most powerful oceans. The fierceness of the Pacific is well-known to those of us on the Central Coast. But so far, researchers and designers haven’t yet found a successful method for converting ocean energy into electricity—in large and affordable amounts.

Thirteen years ago, a renewable energy company placed a huge multi-ton wave energy device in seawater close to Newport. Unfortunately, the device quickly sank, and was later pulled out of the salt water by its owner, and hauled ashore. The expensive loss showed generating energy from the ocean will be a challenge.

One of the major barriers to the potential wave energy industry has been the lack of a place to test various wave energy devices. Thanks to funding from the U.S. Department of Energy, the state of Oregon, foundations and other donors, that need may soon be met by PacWave South, a wave energy test site to be located in the Pacific Ocean about seven miles west of Seal Rock on the outer continental shelf. The site was chosen with significant community input, particularly from commercial fishermen. Because PacWave South will be seven miles from shore, and most of the devices to be tested are likely to be almost entirely underwater, it will be hard to see the devices from land.

PacWave South will be run by Oregon State University, and because the facility needs to be connected to the electric grid to properly test various wave energy devices under development, Central Lincoln will be the link between PacWave South and the West Coast’s electricity grid. “It’s exciting to be partnering with OSU to help develop this new and innovative technology,” says Central Lincoln’s Director of Engineering and Operations Ty Hillebrand.

Wave energy isn’t a new effort for Oregon State. The university has a highly-respected electrical engineering program, and has had a renewable energy program for decades, including a huge indoor wave research facility at the campus in Corvallis. The PacWave South project is an ideal fit for the research university.

“It takes a wide variety of engineers and ocean scientists to tackle the potential wave energy presents,” says Dr. Burke Hales, PacWave’s Chief Scientist, and a professor with the university. “I’m very proud that OSU is a world leader in these kinds of synergistic efforts, and I am looking forward to showing what we can accomplish.”

What will be tested? Up to 20 wave energy devices at one time potentially, generating up to 20 megawatts of power. Devices known as point absorbers, attenuators, oscillating water columns, and possible hybrid devices are being developed by researchers, scientists and businesses.

For more than 80 years, many in the Northwest have thought of hydropower as a tremendous renewable resource coming from the Columbia and Snake rivers. Thanks to PacWave South, it’s hoped that someday hydropower— electricity generated by water—will also mean ocean energy from the Pacific.

For more information, go to pacwaveenergy.org