Prototype wave energy device passes grid-connected pilot test

opt ocean energy projects developing
Credit: DOE

A prototype wave energy device advanced with backing from the Energy Department and U.S. Navy has passed its first grid-connected open-sea pilot testing.

According to the DOE, the device, called Azura, was recently launched and installed in a 30-meter test berth at the Navy’s Wave Energy Test Site (WETS) in Kaneohe Bay, on the island of Oahu, Hawaii.

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This pilot testing is now giving U.S. researchers the opportunity to evaluate the long-term performance of the nation’s first grid-connected 20-kilowatt wave energy converter (WEC) device to be independently tested by a third party—the University of Hawaii—in the open ocean, the DOE said.

The current phase of in-water testing at the WETS’s 30-meter test berth has already proven valuable in gathering performance and reliability data from the device in deep water, open-ocean conditions. The data will be used to further optimize Azura’s performance and refine existing wave energy computer simulations, ultimately supporting commercialization of this technology, the DOE stated.

Azura’s developer, Northwest Energy Innovations (NWEI), with $5 million in additional funding from the Energy Department, will apply lessons learned from this current phase of development to modify the device design in order to improve its efficiency and reliability.

NWEI plans to then test the improved design with a full-scale device rated between 500 kilowatts and one megawatt at WETS at even deeper test berths of 60 meters to 80 meters over the next several years.

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 expenses that will accelerate the commercialization and deployment of MHK technologies.

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 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. Last year 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 development, the DOE last year 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.

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