Oregon State University is purchasing a five-acre parcel along the central Oregon coast that will be the shore-based facility for converting wave energy captured from a test site to be located about seven miles offshore into utility-grid accessible power. In December of 2016, the university was awarded a grant of more than $35 million from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Water Power Technologies Office to develop the wave energy test site, which will be designed to allow commercial wave-energy developers to test different technologies for harnessing the untapped energy of ocean waves.
Wave energy has the potential to provide clean, reliable electricity to meet the world’s rising energy demands, experts say. Globally, the marine energy market is projected to reach nearly $700 billion by the year 2050, and the World Energy Council estimates that 10 percent of the worldwide electricity demand could be met by harvesting ocean energy. The project, known as PacWave, will offer pre-permitted, grid-connected wave energy testing in an open-ocean environment, according to Burke Hales of OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences, which is coordinating the effort.
“The test facility will provide a dependable and robust environment for the burgeoning wave energy sector to test their technologies, better understand what it takes to link ocean-generated power to an existing grid, and both improve performance and reduce costs,” Hales said. The site will have a peak capacity to generate as much as 20 megawatts of electricity, or enough to power about 2,000 homes – about 10 percent of the total residences in nearby Lincoln County. “The power generated is something of a bonus, albeit a real, tangible benefit,” Hales noted.
“The 20-megawatt figure is the maximum capacity, not the anticipated steady output,” he added. “There will be times when the ocean is flat and glassy and there just won’t be enough wave power to generate energy, and other times when it is so rough the energy converters will be on overload. That will be one of the engineering challenges going forward.”
The PacWave ocean test site will be located on a sandy-bottomed stretch of the Pacific Ocean away from popular commercial and recreational fishing reefs, and outside of recognized shipping and tow lanes.
The size of the test area will be approximately one nautical mile in dimension measured east to west, and two nautical miles measured north to south (a nautical mile is about 1.1 regular miles) in water that is about 80 meters, or 262 feet deep. The ocean site will have four different testing “bays,” each of which can accommodate 5-6 wave energy converters. Those converters will be connected to an offshore node that will relay the energy via buried cable to the shore-based facility and the power grid.
“We’re not developing the wave energy ourselves,” Hales said. “We are providing the testing facilities and accreditation for the people in the business. We have the marine infrastructure and support system to make it work, and of course the power of the Pacific Ocean nearby.”
In addition to new technologies, OSU also will monitor the environmental impacts of wave energy instrumentation, led by ecologists at the university’s Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport. “We’ve also been working with the fishing community, which has been very supportive of the project,” Hales said.
The total cost for the project is estimated at $50 million. The university is seeking additional funding from the state of Oregon, donors, foundations and corporations.
Information and photos by OSU