This 45-Ton Buoy Might Change The Way You Get Your Power

CREDIT: Courtesy Northwest Energy Innovations

For the first time ever, some Americans are turning on the lights with energy from the ocean’s waves.

A pilot project in Hawaii is now grid-connected at a naval test site off the island of Oahu. The device, known as Azura, is being tested by the University of Hawaii.

“As the first grid connected wave energy device in the U.S. that will be tested and validated by an independent party, this deployment marks a major milestone for our team and the marine renewable energy industry,” Northwest Energy Innovations founder and CEO Steve Kopf said in a statement.

The 45-ton Azura absorbs wave energy — from both up-and-down and side-to-side motion — and converts it to electricity. It is the first design of its kind — other projects haven’t incorporated this 360-degree motion, according to the company.

Wave and tidal power is slowly gaining traction. Last year, Lockheed Martin was hired to help build what will be the world’s largest wave energy project — a 62.5 megawatt (MW) project off Australia’s southern coast that will have the capacity to power 10,000 homes. A 320 MW tidal project is also under consideration off the coast of Wales.

The global push to go off fossil fuels and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, while still powering the lights and keeping the air-conditioning running, makes it critical to develop renewable energy sources. According to the latest data, the electricity sector accounts for nearly a third of the United States’ greenhouse gas emissions — more than any other sector, even transportation. This is because most of our electricity comes from burning coal and now natural gas, which studies have shown emits more greenhouse gases than originally estimated.

Hawaii has been an eager customer for renewables. The state’s dependence on imported fossil fuels — mainly oil — for its electricity sector has given it the highest electricity prices in the country. To combat these high prices and to diminish carbon emissions, Hawaii recently established a goal of getting 100 percent of its electricity from renewable resources.

The state already has the highest penetration of rooftop solar in the nation. But photovoltaic solar, without storage, only produces power during the day, and the local utility company has struggled with balancing out the supply and demand of electricity. This week, the Pacific Business Journal reported that Hawaii Electric Co. has approved connections for thousands of customers who have been waiting to add their solar systems to the grid since October.

While Hawaii might be the perfect testing ground for wave technology, it could theoretically spread to much of the United States. According to the Energy Department, more than 50 percent of Americans live within 50 miles of the ocean, which means wave and tide power could be easily transmitted to where many of us live and work. And the potential is huge: A 2012 report prepared by RE Vision Consulting for the Department of Energy found that the theoretical ocean wave energy resource potential in the United States is more than 50 percent of the country’s annual demand.

The 20-kilowatt Azura project will continue testing for a year. If all goes well, it will be expanded for commercial use, between 500 kilowatts and 1 MW.

“Standards, rigorous testing, and transparency are the foundations of our development program for the Azura technology. We believe that independent verification of performance data is imperative to achieving commercialization,” Kopf said.