New unknowns, new buoy, new funds put OSU on wave energy crest

Even as Oregon State researchers deployed a wave energy buoy in the Pacific last week, new findings from an OSU workshop suggest the development of wave energy facilities off the Oregon coast could have significant environmental impacts.

Most of those impacts, however, are largely unknown, and the report itself is being used as a guide for the flood of technological advances seeking to tap a clean, renewable energy source like ocean waves.

OSU's Pacific Storm pulls a wave energy buoy out to sea.

OSU's Pacific Storm pulls a wave energy buoy out to sea.

“It’s a framework for the key issues we need to address in marine ecosystems as wave energy develops in the Pacific Northwest,” said George Boehlert, director of OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport and editor of the report.

“The high priority issues deal with potential impacts on marine mammals and seabirds, the effects on the physical environment, and changes to the (ocean floor) habitat,” Boehlert said.

“There also is a need to explore the cumulative effects of wave energy parks as the technology develops and commercialization efforts scale up.”
The report , available online only at http://hmsc.oregonstate.edu/waveenergy, identifies five potential impact areas: fish, seabirds, marine mammals, pelagic habitat, and benthic habitat.

Meanwhile, OSU researchers in the College of Engineering tested their latest prototype in ocean experiments near Newport in late September.

“This has been a tremendous collaboration to help zero in on optimum designs,” said Annette von Jouanne, professor of electrical engineering, referring to OSU’s collaboration with Columbia Power Technologies and the U.S. Navy.

Oregon State research assistants adjust the wave energy research buoy that was deployed last week off Newport on the Oregon Coast.

Oregon State research assistants adjust the wave energy research buoy that was deployed last week off Newport on the Oregon Coast.

Columbia is driving the effort to commercialization, and OSU is providing the support and research role, she said.

OSU engineers are helping to develop a “direct drive” buoy technology that they believe will have advantages of efficiency and reliability.

“Our ocean tests went exceedingly well,” said Ted Brekken, an assistant professor of nuclear engineering. “The buoy produced power, the hydrodynamic behavior fit our expectations, the deployment went well and we got a lot of data to work with.”

Experts are still estimating that wave energy, when fully developed, might be comparable to the potential of hydroelectric energy in the United States, and could ultimately supply as much as 10 percent of Oregon’s electrical power.

OSU’s wave energy research program is sailing forward on the crest of $13.5 million in new funds from federal and state sources awarded two weeks ago to the Northwest National Marine Renewable Energy Center based at the Hatfield Marine Science Center.

The new money will move the generation of energy by waves, ocean currents, and tides from the laboratory to part of the nation’s alternative energy future. The OSU project  is one of just two new marine renewable energy centers in the nation.

“This is just the beginning,” said Robert Paasch, an associate professor of mechanical engineering, and interim program director of the center. “But we have no doubt that wave energy can become an important contributor to energy independence for the United States, and Oregon can lead those efforts.”

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