NEWPORT, Ore. (KMTR) -- A milestone for wave energy development in Oregon is now floating off the coast of Newport, as Oregon State University launches the first wave energy buoy test site in the United States.
Two research devices are now floating in the one-square-mile test site, just about two miles off Yaquina Head in Newport. The devices were launched in late August 2012.
While OSU tested a wave energy research buoy in 2008, the new test site venture is a one of the first major steps in the U.S. to figure out if wave energy is a viable source of electricity and what impact it may have on the local communities and environment.
One of the devices is called Ocean Sentinel. The $1.5 million prototype is owned by the Northwest National Marine Renewable Energy Center (NNMREC), which is headquartered at OSU.
“The Ocean Sentinel is our attempt at how do you answer some of the core questions of this industry,” says Sean Moran, Manager of Wave Energy Ocean Test Facilities for the NNMREC.
Ocean Sentinel looks like an unmanned boat packed full of science instruments. It’s designed to measure and monitor the efficiency of test wave buoys and various other elements affecting the biology and climate around the buoy.
“You're looking at how it could possibly impact the environment and marine mammals and if it generates electromagnetic frequencies - if it makes too much noise. We're looking at big picture things,” says Moran.
The second device, called Wet NZ, is an actually electricity generating ocean wave buoy. Wet NZ is owned by a Portland company called Northwest Energy Innovations, which is teaming with Wave Energy Technology New Zealand.
“What we're really trying to do is understand the efficiency of the current design,” says Justin Klure, Project Manager for Northwest Energy Innovations.
Wet NZ is about 75 feet tall and 15 feet in diameter. It generates electricity by moving back and forth and side to side in the wave action. So far, the prototype device, which generates about 20 kilowatts of power, has been working as planned.
“We're on a path toward commercialization, so we'll take the information we've learned, understand how the device has performed and put a game plan in to place to determine where we go from here,” says Klure.
The Ocean Sentinel wave buoy test device and the area it sits in represent the first area for wave buoy testing in North America and the entire United States. Previously, the only other test sites were in Europe. Those associated with the project say Ocean Sentinel and Wet NZ represent a huge step forward for ocean wave energy technology.
“This is very exciting for us, moving the industry forward by having a developer go out and see how their device performs in the open ocean,” says Belinda Batten, Director of the Northwest National Marine Energy Center, which is headquartered at OSU.
“Until they really get out there and you see how much energy they produce for a given wave climate, see how they are reliable, see how they sustain an Oregon winter, you're not going to be able to deploy these commercially until they get through these development phases,” says Batten.
Batten says the implication could be very big for the coastal community, bringing many new jobs. A similar test project in Europe that’s double the size of OSU’s, created about 221 jobs in the last ten years.
“Developers, manufacturers, shippers, the educational community, caterers, facilitators and hotel jobs,” says Batten.
Researchers admit there are still many questions to be answered about wave energy, including what impacts it has on the coastal community, the environment and whether or not it works well enough to deploy. Researchers are confident they’ll get more answers to those questions soon.
“It's no different than any technology, that comes out. When it’s new, there's questions to answer, but that's what we're here to do,” says Moran.
Ocean Sentinel and WetNZ will be in the water until October 2012. OSU plans to work with other wave energy buoy makers in the future. The plan is to operate the test site from May to October each year.