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Tuesday, July 29, 2014


Let me be brutally honest and say there is no major potential for wave power.  Yes, of course, a few installations over the next few decades will successfully feed electricity into the local grid, but will wave power, say, approach 10% of all electricity produced by the year 2100?  Even though it is reported that the theoretical amount of the available resource exceeds current worldwide usage, I think there are too many impacting negative factors facing this option.  But I could be wrong, so let me attempt to provide a broad perspective.

In my book focusing on renewable energy, SIMPLE SOLUTIONS for Planet Earth, I indicated that the UK estimated that 0.1% of the energy inherent in offshore waves could supply the world's energy needs five time over.  However, I ended with:

My personal assessment of wave power is to wait and see. I am not optimistic.

Part of my pessimism is based on failures.  For example, the world's first wave farm just north of Porto, Portugal, went into operation in 2008, using three Pelamis wave energy converters.  Just two months later, the effort collapsed.  There is doubt about any second phase.

Thus, first, some contravening factors:
  • More than two decades ago I was on flight to Tonga with a researcher from the Florida Solar Energy Center.  He was on his way to assess the potential of wave power for the country.  He never survived his first survey dive.  Last year it was reported that ARGOenvironmental of New Zealand was negotiating a power purchase agreement with Tonga for a 1 MW wave energy project.
  • It will be nearly impossible for a wave energy system to survive a hundred year storm...UNLESS IT IS PROPERLY PROTECTED.  And here is the fatal flaw.  You can almost always build to withstand disaster.  The Fukushima nuclear reactors (above) would have survived if the walls were thicker and 25 feet taller.  But how can you justify such costs for something that  has never before happened?  Wavepower devices can be designed to withstand virtually anything, but that could double or triple the already high cost.  Wind energy conversion devices have fallen apart.    Simply, water is 859 times denser than air.  
  • The local paper yesterday described a 20kW Azura wave buoy to be tested at the Wave Energy Test Site of the University of Hawaii off the Kaneohe Marine Corps Base.  I have friends who have 20 kW solar photovoltaic installations on their roof.  The maintenance is minimal.  Can you imagine what it will cost to keep this system to the right going for 20 years?  Then, of course, there will be days when there will be no waves.
  • Energy Informative gives some pluses and minuses.  The major bad is cost:
    • Unknown, now high, but potential for competitiveness at larger scale and dependability.
    • Maintenance.
A key question is what will it cost to produce electricity from a wave power system?  A study reported by Dong-hyeon Park from Seoul National University indicates that:
  • Oceanlinx's Oscillating Wave Column Plant someday will be able to generate electricity for 9.2 cents/kWh
  • Pelami Wave Plant will ultimately do it for 10.4 cents/kWh
As electricity ranges from 33 cents/kWh on Oahu to 45 cents/kWh on Lanai, wow, why doesn't Hawaii immediately jump into wave energy?  Wave energy is today still very expensive.

So returning to Dr. Park's assessment above, it is my contention that any developing renewable electrical generation system almost always at maturity and large scale will be projected to produce electricity for less than 10 cents/kWh.    That is a general rule of future energy sources.  Proponents can justifiably speculate to their advantage. When I first worked on fracking for the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in the 70's: 
  • When oil sold for $3/barrel, we said, if only oil prices were to double, we could produce cost-effectively.  
  • With the energy crises, oil shot up to $10/barrel.  
  • We then indicated, if petroleum came up to $12/barrel, surely, our fracking system would be competitive.  
  • Well, oil is now somewhere north of $100/barrel, and fracking, indeed, is a success.
  • I might add that I then went on to work for the U.S, Senate in 1979, and was instrumental in passing various pieces of legislation promoting fracking, something that I today regret.  (READ the paragraph to the right of Senator Scoop Jackson--after you click on that)
There are two points to underscore here:
  1. Never accept the future cost of any energy source as cost-effective if provided by an advocate of the resource.
  2. On the other hand, they could be right should conditions significantly change to their advantage.  If global warming becomes a true crisis, a severe carbon tax will be invoked.  Then, some of the more marginal options will definitely be commercialized.  It is, thus, worthwhile to have various alternatives ready for implementation.
A compilation of negatives from Conserve Energy Future:
    • Only suitable for certain locations
    • Effect of marine ecosystem
    • Source of disturbance for private and commercial vessels (I might add, surfers)
    • Wavelength
    • Weak performance in rough weather (and, I might add, potentially cataclysmic)
    • Noise and visual pollution (I can't imagine what would be the noise pollution)
Among the favorable points for wave energy include:
  • The capacity factor (% of time energy is supplied divided by nameplate figure) could be as  high as 40%
    • solar photovoltaic in Arizona = 20% (the sun does not shine all the time)
    • windfarms = 20% - 40%
    • coal power plants = 40% - 70%
    • nuclear reactor = 70%-90%
  • Zero carbon dioxide emission 
  • From Conserve Energy Future
    • Renewable
    • Environmentally friendly
    • Abundant and widely available
    • Variety of mechanisms
    • Predictable
    • Less dependency on foreign oil
    • No damage to land
So what should be the strategy for wave power?  Universities should continue to provide wave energy test centers to assist companies and the federal governments of the world should provide supportive funds.  In consideration of the enormity of our future energy and environmental problems anticipated, even wave power deserves some consideration.  

I reported on the Hawaii efforts (above), but Oregon State also has a program:

The State of Oregon has long been progressive in advancing this option.  In the Atlantic, there is the Center for Ocean Renewable Energy (CORE) operated by the University of New Hampshire:

The unquestioned world leader,  however, is Scotland, where a partnership between the national government and various companies has leveraged the research conducted by  universities.  Stephen Salter (above to the right in 1974) from the University of Edinburgh, is legendary with his Salter Duck.  I dropped by his "tank" for a chat  when I long ago spent some time on their campus.  The latest Marine Energy News issue of the Scottish Enterprise reports:

  • Seatricity's Oceanus 2 device (above) is ready to be deployed at Wave Hub in Hayle, and if testing is successful, they will manufacture 60 devices.
  • The Crown Estate (hey, this is Queen Elizabeth II) has approved six new wave and tidal demonstration zones and five new wave/tidal project sites, each with a potential to deliver 10-30 MW.
  • From Yahoo, a report by Transparency Market Research claims that the global wave/tidal energy mart could worth $10.1 billion in 2020.  Keep in mind, though, that the current numbers are 200 companies and assorted research groups operating on $25 million.
  • The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management will test wave devices at the Northwest National Marine Renewable Energy Center (Oregon State University).
As bullish I have been for OTEC and less than so for wave energy, let me nevertheless predict that wave energy will beat OTEC to commercialization.  While the long term prospects for OTEC is cornucopially monumental, getting to that first enterprise has been elusive.  Conversely, a 1 MW wave system should be financeable under current practice.  OTEC will begin to develop slowly, at first only because of co-product needs.  Note that wave energy ONLY produces electricity, which provides no distractions.  Luis Vega (right) of the University of Hawaii is the world authority on this subject.  A commercial 100 MW plantship will cost at least a billion dollars, and only if the $/MW hour total cost for a proposed 1 MW facility today can be reduced by a factor of seven.  Interest rates, of course, can be determining.  Today, great.  Tomorrow?

The bottom line is that investors do not have a current mechanism to fully fund such an ambitious enterprise.  Keep an eye, though, on Ocean Thermal Energy Corporation, for they have some innovative finance concepts being advanced.

Alternative Energy has a Wave Power site, and you click on it to learn a lot more about this option.  Wikipedia has a readable summary.

Tropical Storm Halong, now at 65 MPH way east of the Philippines, will strengthen into a Category 3 and head for Japan:

There are six ocean storms, but Halong is the only one of any consequence:


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