Since 2007, the State of Oregon has supported the wave energy industry through a variety of investments. Those investments may have just paid off. On December 21, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced the recipient of up to $40 million for a grid-connected open water test site for wave energy technologies, and Oregon was the big winner. A team from California also competed for that funding, but Oregon had a lot going for it.
Oregon began its path to this big win by establishing and funding the Oregon Wave Energy Trust in 2007. Since then, OWET received almost $14 million to attract and build the industry. Much of that funding supported research and development at Oregon State University (OSU). In 2008, DOE began funding the Northwest National Marine Renewable Energy Center (NNMREC) at OSU and the University of Washington; NNMREC added the University of Alaska Fairbanks in 2015.
Dr. Belinda Batten leads the team and NNMREC has grown to include about forty affiliated researchers since inception. OSU has focused primarily on wave energy, and has hosted several companies that have used the university’s various facilities to test and develop wave energy technologies.
As the wave energy industry continued its steady progress, a new need emerged: a fully energetic, grid connected test site, where utility scale technologies can be deployed for extended periods, and demonstrate that they are commercially viable. Europe has invested more heavily in marine renewables than the United States, and it has several locations available for open ocean testing. As U.S.-based companies approached full-scale technologies, one fear has been that they would abandon the U.S. to take advantage of the testing capabilities of Europe and the more heavily subsidized markets. With the DOE’s recent announcement, at least the former concern can be partially addressed.
OSU’s planned grid connected test site, the Pacific Marine Energy Center – South Energy Test Site, is located about six miles offshore from Newport, Oregon and will consist of four separate berths, each with its own electric transmission cable, and the ability to test arrays of devices. Cumulatively, PMEC SETS will support up to 20 megawatts of generation capacity, and, as an added bonus, the site will be pre-permitted, so that companies need not undertake that significant effort. The facility is being designed to support utility-scale technologies designed by companies such as Columbia Power Technologies and Northwest Energy Innovations.
PMEC SETS is expected to be operational by 2020, just in time for several companies that will have completed their deployments at the Navy’s Wave Energy Test Site (WETS), located in Hawaii. Building on the foundations established over the past ten years, PMEC SETS promises to continue Oregon’s leadership in wave energy, as companies come to the state to build, deploy, and maintain their gear for extended testing.
With the combined assets of WETS, PMEC SETS, the west coast’s excellent wave regime, and the excellent market opportunities in Alaska and California, a path to commercial viability may be emerging for this new form of highly predictable renewable energy. For some companies in the wave energy industry, this convergence of testing and market capability represents a trajectory that just may result in some commercial projects in the early 2020s.
Jason Busch is the executive editor of Oregon Wave Energy Trust.