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Cal Poly Loses $40 Mil Federal Grant For Wave-Energy Test Site

January 6,2017-
Led by CalPoly’s Institute for Advanced Technology and Public Policy, the CalWave proposed national wave energy test center project looked to be riding a wave of support of its own. For the past two years CalWave had landed back to back Department of Energy (DOE) funding for their studies totaling $2.25 million. But now CalWave has fallen short on the big prize they were competing for – a DOE grant of $40 million to actually build an offshore wave-power test site, losing out to Newport, Oregon’s Northwest National Marine Renewable Energy Center at Oregon State University.

The announcement came December 21 from the Department of Energy.

screen-shot-2017-01-06-at-12-43-25-pmThe new test facility, called the Pacific Marine Energy Center South Energy Test Site, will be constructed off the Oregon coast with a combination of federal and non-federal funds says DOE.The planned facility, to be completed by early 2020, includes four grid-connected berths where researchers can test full-scale wave energy conversion device concepts.
Here in San Luis Obispo,a local partnership had prepared a strong rival application they thought had a leg-up on Northwest test site.

The Cal Poly’s rival application sought to locate a test center for wave energy off the Central Coast adjacent Vandenberg Air Force base, five miles offshore. The site along California’s open coast was supported by a half dozen partners including the State of California seeking to advance ocean based energy here. The US Department of Defense was exited about the plan as well.

Reached with the news after the holidays, CalWave project manager Bill Toman said “ of course we are disappointed, but this is not unexpected. OSU had a big head start in time, previous DOE grants, designation as part of DOE’s Northwest National Marine Renewable Energy Center, actual permitting done, widespread PNW political support and had an effective Washington, DC lobbying firm. The $40 million grant money is contingent upon Congressional authorization which is anyone’s guess with the new Administration.”

The DOE announcement aims to move wave energy to commercial development.

“Testing innovative wave energy devices at full scale in open water is an important step toward harnessing one day a reliable energy resource. Anyone who has swum or surfed in moderate ocean waves knows something of the power they represent,” said Franklin Orr, Under Secretary for Science and Energy at the Energy Department. “This new facility will help us to advance the science and technology of wave energy devices, and to identify the challenges we will ultimately need to overcome in order to achieve commercial deployment.”
The DOE statement continues “The pre-permitted Oregon site was designed to meet the Department’s specifications as well as industry and community needs, letting researchers focus on the technological challenges inherent in testing—instead of permitting and regulatory matters. The site is expected to be a flagship test facility for wave energy converters globally, playing a critical role in advancing wave energy technology into commercial viability.

Recent studies estimate that America’s technically recoverable wave energy resource ranges between approximately 900–1,230 terawatt hours (TWh) per year, distributed across the coast of Alaska, the West Coast, the East Coast, the Gulf of Mexico, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico. For context, approximately 90,000 homes can be powered by 1 TWh per year. This means that even if only a few percent of the potential is recovered, millions of homes could be powered by wave energy as the technology progresses.”

Toman and his team led by Dr. Sam Blakeslee believed that Cal Poly’s application enjoyed some advantages in that it would be grid connected to a much larger electricity market in California as well as the potential to provide renewable energy to a key military base who very much supported the project. Toman had also raised the possibility the project could use offshore cable already in place to bring power in.

CalWave’s current funding to study the California site ends in February and before the recent DOE announcement Toman shrugged that “only one site on the West Coast is going to win.” A national wave energy test site here would have meant likely future high tech investment and jobs for this area and a clear feather in the cap for Cal Poly. Cal Wave had projected it could build a center starting in 2018 and be in operation by 2021. Companies wanting to test their technology would have flocked here.

Given the uncertainty over the nation’s energy future under Donald Trump – Toman is on the one hand unsure of federal funding for renewable projects like this – wherever they are located – but maintains that wave energy potential here is strong. Already the coast off Morro Bay is being targeted for large offshore wind energy projects and the state of California has recently signed-on to support these ocean based technologies.

The potential is great.The California Energy Commission has estimated that the California coastline could generate 7400megawatts of electricity from ocean wave,unlike solar – waves don’t shut down at night.The CalWave project was expected to generate up to 50MW.

As Toman notes, the $40 million grant offer will be managed and supported or not by Trump’s new energy secretary – Texas’s Rick Perry it looks like, who as governor supported wind energy in his state.
Now it looks like the Newport-based site will be the first open-water test facility for wave power connected directly to the power grid in the U.S. Supporters say clean, renewable energy found in waves and tidal currents holds the potential to deliver up to one-third of our nation’s electricity needs, according to the DOE.

In the summer of 2016 America’s first wave-power project went online in Hawaii.

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