September 27th, 2012 by Don Lieber
In a little-noticed breakthrough for sustainable, non-fossil-fuel electricity generation, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) last month issued the first-ever license for a wave power station in the United States. The license was issued to Ocean Power Technologies, a New Jersey–based private corporation specializing in wave energy.
The first stage of the station, a 130-foot, 260-ton “PowerBuoy,” is scheduled for deployment off the coast of Oregon next month (October). Eventually, the station will comprise ten PowerBuoys, along with grid infrastucture connecting it to land. The station, the first of its kind in the US, will have a generation capacity of 1.5 megawatts — enough electricity to power approximately 1,000 homes.
Energy development groups around the world are closely watching what happens in Oregon, because success or failure with the first United States commercial license could affect the flow of private investment by bigger companies that have mostly stayed on the shore while smaller entrepreneurs struggled in the surf.
“Wave energy is very expensive to develop, and they need to see that there is a potential worldwide,” said António Sarmento, a professor at Lisbon Technical University and the director of the Wave Energy Centre, a private nonprofit group based in Portugal. “In that sense, having the first commercial deployment in the U.S. is very, very positive.”
A recent government study showed the incredible potential that U.S. coastal regions hold for domestic power generation, saying:
“Even with the limits of today’s technology, scientists concluded, there’s sufficient recoverable energy offshore – some 1,170 terawatt-hours a year in all – to keep a third of the country humming. More energy crashes annually onto the West Coast, for instance, than California uses in a year.”
The concept of harnessing the ocean’s power for electricity has been around for years — but technological challenges and start-up costs have thus far prevented its development on a large scale. Forbes reports that currenly only 5 megawatts of energy are produced in this way each year across the globe.
Nevertheless, the potential is vast, and with rapid advancements in technology — along with the growing acceptance that finding alternative, non-fossil-fuel sources of power is a historic and ecologic necessity for future generations — forward-thinking energy leaders are taking note.
“We see wave energy as a very serious market for renewable energy in the future,” says Tim Fuhr, director of ocean energy for Lockheed Martin. “Basically, we see the ocean as the largest untouched source of power on the planet.”
Some might call this the ‘wave of the future’.
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