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Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Summary of Oregon Ocean Renewable Energy Conference

I recently attended the Ocean Renewable Energy Conference in Newport, OR, on July 14th. The conference was almost entirely focused on wave energy and was centered around the theme of 'what would it take to make Oregon the North American leader in wave energy - both in installed wave energy facilties and as home to a new wave energy industry. [OPT's plans for a Reedsport wave energy park was a frequent topic of discussion at the conference, of course - see recent post].

The conference recieved a good showing - at least 100 people were in attendance - for a technology and industry as nascent as wave energy. The conference felt like what a conference on wind energy must have felt like 20 years ago.

A strong and broad stakeholders group, known as the POWER group (People of Oregon for Wave Energy Resources) has been assembled and has been meeting in Oregon for the past year. The POWER group was instrumental in making the conference happen.

The conference evidenced the strong enthusiasm for this emerging renewable energy technology as well as a called to attention a number of questions that remained to be answered:

  • Which technology would win out? - there were three executives from three different ocean power technology companies in attendence, and about 15 other companies highlighted in a presenation, each with a different power conversion device;

  • How will utilities view these projects? - representatives from Portland General Electric, the Pacific Northwest Generating Cooperative, Central Lincoln PUD (the local utility that will likely purchase power from the Reedsport facility) and the Bonneville Power Administration where all in attendance and delivered presentation on a utilities-focused panel;

  • How can Oregon set itself up to become the center of a new wave energy industry? - Oregon Governor Ted Kulongoski's Cheif of Staff, Pat Egan gave a presentation discussing the economic development potential of a new industry in Oregon and reiterated the governor's public support for wave energy in Oregon [see previous post];

  • Can wave energy take advantage of existing incentives for renewables (a crucial question for a technology in it's early stages seeking to reach mass production economies of scale and come down the price curve into competitive price ranges)? - unless you define wave energy as a type of hydropower (something most wave energy supporters are reluctant to do), most existing statutes and laws supporting renewable energy development don't mention wave energy and thus can't help support the development of this new technology unless the laws are ammended; effort is underway at state and federal levels to do so (including extending the federal Production Tax Credit to wave and tidal energy);

  • And, perhaps most importantly, how do we actually permit and site a wave energy facility in the United States? - it's never been done before, and there's a whole rats nest of federal, state and local agencies that will have some say in the siting process; FERC will generally be the lead if the facility is located in state territorial waters (<3 miles from shore), while the federal Minerals Managament Service (MMS - the guys in charge of siting offshore oil and gas rigs) takes the lead if the wave park is outside state waters (>3 miles offshore) or in a national wildlife refuge. A number of other agencies will have a part of play as well.

  • As far as United States development of wave energy facilities in the next few years, there were three projects discussed at the conference that are in varying stages of development:

  • The Reedsport wave park [see previous posts here and here], which could be the first commercial-scale wave facilty in North America. This project (as discussed above), would feature Ocean Power Technology's PowerBuoy wave energy converters and we be located offshore of Reedsport and the mouth of the Umpqua River. The Reedsport site is a prime location for wave energy development because it has an excellent wave resource, and because of old paper mill site near Reedsport left behind an existing power substation with capacity for 50 MW as well as a three kilometer underwater effluent pipeline that can be used to run underwater power cables from the wave park to shore.

    The Reedsport OPT project would start with a 2 MW pilot-scale installation, most likely consisting of 13-14 of OPT's 150 kW PowerBuoy's. The second phase would be commercial-scale and be up to 50 MW, potentially using the larger 500 kW version of the PowerBuoy that OPT is planning to develop (every doubling in diameter of the power conversion device quadruples the amount of wave energy captured, meaning a wave energy has a very strong economy of scale similar to that for wind power). Central Lincoln County Public Utility District is supportive of the project and has said they would purchase power from the Reedsport wave park.

    OPT is also planning a 1.5 MW project off the coast of Spain as well as a 2-5 MW project in France (in partnership with Totale) and a potential project in southwest England.

  • A National Wave Energy Research Center, located in Newport, Oregon, has been proposed, and Oregon State University has been pushing for federal funding for the center. The center would likely be modeled after wave energy research centers like the EMEC facility in Orkney (UK).

    The EMEC facility includes four 'plug-and-play' test berths in 50 meter depth for wave energy device testing. Armoured cables link each berth to a substation onshore. These link to an 11kV transmission cable connecting to the national grid and to a data/communications centre located in nearby Stromness. The berths are 'pre-permitted,' allowing wave energy device manufacturers to do full-scale grid-connected temporary installations of their devices without having to go through a full (and lengthy) permitting and siting process. (Ocean Power Delivery and their Pelamis wave energy device have benefited a great deal from use of the EMEC facility, as have several other wave energy companies)

    The center would also include state-of-the-art onshore research laboratory facilities to enable research and development of wave energy conversion devices, long-lasting marine materials, etc.

    OSU has been doing cutting-edge research on wave energy conversion devices and would run the National Wave Energy Research Center. (They have also been involved in the Reedsport project).

  • AquaEnergy (Aqua) has been working for several years on a 1 MW pilot project in Makah Bay, Washington. Aqua applied for a permit for the project in 2002 and has been undergoing the FERC Alternative Licensing Project (although the passsage of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 may change juristiction to MMS). Clallam Public Utility District has partnered in the process and has said they would purchase power from the facility.

    The Makah facility is located in the northwestern-most tip of the continguous United States, 3.2 miles offshore from the Makah Indian Reservation on Washington's Olympic Penninsula. Transmission lines run just onshore, allowing easy grid interconnection. The facility would be located in a marine wildlife refuge, so obviously, extensive environmental impact studies are being carried out. The Makah Bay facility would utilize Aqua's AquaBuOY wave energy converters.

  • It will be a while before any of these projects get in the water. Being the pioneers through the permitting process for the first wave energy facilities in the U.S. is a thankless job, and it will be a long process. Being the first means you've got a lot of things to demonstrate - enviromental impact, impact on local fisheries, reliability of your devices and the power it generates, etc. - before you'll get your permit, and (judging from the presentations at the conference) it will be at least 2 years before even a pilot-scale project is in the water.

    It will probably be 4-5 years or more before we see an operational commercial-scale wave energy facility. Still, if wave energy can follow the same exponentially decreasing price curve that the wind industry has realized, we could be looking at an excellent new renewable energy source that we can add to our portfolio of diversified, clean, and domestic energy resources.

    [EDIT - 8/4/06] The presentation from the conference are now available online to download, if you are interested: conference presentations.


    Anonymous said...

    Hello Jesse,

    I updated the link to say Watthead.
    Thanks for the response.


    Heiko said...

    Thanks for putting your thesis on-line.

    I've got one question (or rather several related ones) about well-to-wheels analyses in general. None of the renewables alternatives (cellulosic ethanol, electric vehicles, BTL, dimethylether, ethanol from corn, biodiesel, electrolytic hydrogen for upgrading of biomass derived liquids) has to have a fossil fuel input.

    Tractors for corn fields could use ethanol or biodiesel. Fertiliser for corn fields could come from renewable hydrogen. Process heat for distilling the ethanol could come from waste wood, or solar/geothermal energy.

    I understand that it's useful to get an idea of what indirect petroleum consumption is using present methods, but what meaning do these numbers have when talking future potential?

    Wouldn't it be useful to include monetary cost somehow? After all the reason ethanol from corn gets produced with natural gas is that nat gas is cheaper than waste wood (or was until recently), and battery electric vehicles, and even more so fuel cell vehicles, aren't getting anywhere because of cost.

    Wouldn't there be some fair way to state how expensive it would be to go to zero emissions using corn ethanol compared to say batteries and wind power?

    And maybe to differentiate further by saying that say 10% substitution is most cost efficient using ethanol from corn, and 100% substitution is most cost efficient by say 20% ethanol from corn used in plug-in hybrids reducing demand 80%?