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Wave Power: Permit Granted To Build First Commercial Wave Farm In US

Ocean Power Technologies PowerBouy

We’ve talked a heck of a lot on here about wind and solar power, two clean energy sources that are rapidly developing around the world. It’s starting to look like wave power is joining their ranks, with the first commercial wave-energy farm headed into development off the coast of Reedsport, Oregon.

According to USA Today, New Jersey-based Ocean Power Technologies has just been granted a 35-year license by the government to operate a 1.5-megawatt wave farm that will generate enough power for about 400 homes. This will work by tethering 10 of the company’s PowerBuoys to the bottom of the sea. The buoys are able to generate power through the movement of waves and tides.

According to Phil Pellegrino, spokesman for Ocean Power Technologies, a float on a buoy rises and falls with ocean waves, moving a plunger up and down. A hydraulic pump attached to the plunger converts the movement into rotary motion that drives an electrical generator. The electricity produced is sent to shore over a submerged cable. The first buoy will cost $4 million and weigh 200 tons. Nine more are planned to deploy at this location by the end of 2012, costing a total of $60 million.

Of course, a project of this size does not come without skepticism. In regard to the size of the waves, Pellegrino says there are risks to be had. “If they’re too big they overwhelm the equipment and can damage it,” he noted. “If they’re too small, it’s not going to be cost-effective.”

There is also some concern about how the project will affect marine life and the careers of local fishers and crabbers. Ocean Power Technologies, the state of Oregon, coastal residents, fishers, crabbers, and conservation groups have all been working together over the past three years to agree on the most effective ways to share the ocean.

It will be interesting to see if wave power catches up to wind power in cost effectiveness over time, particularly in offshore areas. If it proves to be an affordable source of clean energy, it sounds like it may be appealing to those living on the coast, because it’s much less visible than wind farms and doesn’t require adding anything to your home or office building. What do you think?

Image courtesy of Ocean Power Technologies

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