US Energy Dept. deals $10M to ride ocean wave energy

Energy Dept. setting up wave energy competition; money for wave technologies

The Energy Department said it would spend $10 million to help kick-start unique energy technology that converts ocean waves and currents into electricity.

Perhaps the most interesting component to the announcement is $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.

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The Department of Energy said it expects a prize competition to "dramatically improve the performance of wave energy converter (WEC) devices, providing a pathway to game-changing reductions in the cost of wave-based energy. In principle, prize competitions set a high technical bar for participants to be eligible for a prize, thus facilitating rapid advancements through technical innovation at a relatively low cost to the sponsoring agency."

According to the DOE the broader goal for the WEC competition is to spur innovations for new and next generation technologies to be cost-competitive at 15 cents per kilowatt hour (¢/kWh), down from the current range of 61-77 ¢/kWh3.

"The wave energy industry is young and experiencing many new innovations as evidenced by a sustained growth in patent activity. While the private industry is developing these early conception wave energy converter (WEC) devices through design and benchtop prototype testing, funding is hard to secure for performance testing and evaluation of WEC devices in wave tanks at a meaningful scale. This is a problem for the industry since scaled WEC prototype tank testing, validation, and evaluation are key steps in the advancement of WEC technologies through the technical readiness levels to reach commercialization, the DOE stated.

Hand-in-hand with the WEC technology, the DOE said it will 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.

The $10 million outlay is at least the second big wave energy investment the DOE has made in past year.  In August 2013 it 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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