US Navy, Energy Dept. team to develop wave energy devices

Agency to spend $10 million to test new technologies in deep water Navy facility

opt ocean energy projects developing
Credit: DOE

With an eye toward helping jump-start a nascent industry the US Navy and Department of Energy today said they would spend $10 million to test two deep-water wave energy devices.

 The devices fall under what’s known as advance marine and hydrokinetic (MHK) technology which converts the energy of waves, tides, rivers, and ocean currents into clean, renewable electricity that can be used by homes and businesses.

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 “A total of $10 million has been made available for these in-water tests to collect important performance, reliability, and cost data from innovative wave energy conversion devices that are in the late stages of technology development,” the DOE stated.

 The two devices are described by the DOE:

  • Ocean Energy USA will test a full-scale deployment of their Ocean Energy Buoy The Ocean Energy Buoy works by harnessing the energy from air that is compressed by the natural rise and fall of ocean waves, and converting it into electricity. The Energy Department and the Navy will collect data throughout the deployment. Research objectives include validating the mooring design and device durability in the open ocean environment, measuring power output at full scale, and evaluating the cost of energy produced by the device.
  • Northwest Energy Innovations will build and test a full-scale model of its Azura WEC device. Azura extracts power from both the vertical and horizontal motions of waves to maximize energy capture. NWEI is incorporating lessons learned from their half-scale prototype testing in 2012 to modify and improve the full-scale device design. The test will allow the Energy Department and the Navy to gather comprehensive data and evaluate how the device performs in the open ocean. The test data will be used to help validate models generated by the Department’s publicly available, open-source Wave Energy Conversion Simulator tool.

 Ocean Energy USA and Northwest Energy Innovations will test their wave energy conversion devices for one year in new deep-water test berths at the Navy’s Wave Energy Test Site (WETS) off the waters of Marine Corps Base Hawaii.

The DOE describes WETS as the nation’s only grid-connected open-water test site, which will be used to gather performance data and identify key cost drivers that will accelerate the commercialization and deployment of MHK technologies.

 The Navy also supports the need to assess WEC device performance, durability, and environmental impacts by managing the associated infrastructure and testing opportunities to determine the feasibility of using WEC technologies in appropriate locations where local energy costs are high.

 The projects announced this week are only the latest in the DOE’s effort to get wave energy rolling. In March, the agency said it would spend $6.5 million to set up a competition that challenges individuals, universities, and existing and emerging companies to improve the performance and lower the cost of energy produced by wave energy devices.  The agency has said n the past that the US could generate up to 1,400 terawatt hours of potential wave power per year. One terawatt-hour of electricity is enough to power 85,000 homes, according to the agency.

Hand-in-hand with the WEC competition, the DOE said it would spend $3.5 million to develop sensors, instruments and other technologies that collect data on the characteristics of waves, including their height, period, direction, and steepness. Such data will let WECs more accurately assess approaching waves and more efficiently harness their energy.

"The wave environment experienced by a WEC can vary rapidly over very short time periods; the wave height, period, and direction are all highly variable. WECs currently rely on feedback controllers to adjust to this stochastic input. This form of reactive control could be augmented by shorter-term wave statistics on a time horizon of minutes ahead of the device. Feed forward controllers have the potential to double energy capture, but require future knowledge of incoming waves on a time horizon of a few wave lengths (i.e., 30 seconds). New technologies would support the development of wave instrumentation or new processing software for current instrumentation to provide the short term wave statistics or wave‐by‐wave height, period, and directionality measurements that enable feed forward controls," the DOE stated.

A year ago August, the DOE spent $16 million on 17 research projects that promised to increase the power production and reliability of wave and tidal devices and help gather valuable data on how deployed devices interact with the surrounding environment.

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