Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Bobbing for Amperage

KATU is reporting that the first US wave-powered electricity generating complex is under construction near Reedsport, Oregon. I had read a few years back that OSU's College of Engineering was undertaking research at this site, but I didn't realize that the decision had been made to move to commercial development.
The wage-energy farm will work like this:
  • Energy is drawn from waves at the ocean's surface through a network of buoys set up along the coast.
  • The buoys convert the wave power to electricity.
  • Submerged cables send the energy to shore.

However, there are drawbacks with this type of energy harvest. The buoys can sink or end up on the beach, creating a tangled mess. Plus, commercial fishers and crabbers get closed out of wave-energy areas as those become no-fish zones.

The development site was on the lot of a large lumber mill that had closed some years before. Pre-existing high-load power lines, in place to supply the necessary electrical input in the past, saved the expense of installing such lines for potential output from the proposed facility. A brief description of the technology being used is posted at Wikipedia. If I recall, the original design involved a magnet bobbing inside a coil as the waves passed. In the map below, the timber mill site is on the seaward side of the "101" icon near the middle, and partially obscured by it. I wanted to zoom out enough to include a bit of the actual coastline.

View Larger Map (This is showing up as the intended map in preview, but as the Mallorca map I posted last Friday when I look at on my blog. What are you seeing?)

The particular article that I had read probably came out about the same time as this one; the emphasis on proactive community engage is similar.
Dr. George W. Taylor, Chief Executive Officer of OPT, said, "PNGC Power makes an important contribution to the energy requirements of the Northwest, and we are very pleased to work with them in connection with the Reedsport OPT Wave Park. It is important that these initial phases of the project be done in close coordination with, and respect for, the various state and local organizations with interests in the wave park. PNGC has demonstrated that vision and practice, and we appreciate their cooperation and support."
The Oregon Coast is rugged and beautiful, and in the past communities there have depended primarily on fisheries and lumber as their major employers. For a variety of reasons, these two industries have been slammed hard during the past 30 years. A number of other job types have gained in importance, but coast towns are still struggling- particularly in the climate of the last couple of years. So to convince these hard-working and rugged citizens ahead of time that jobs in the electrical industry would make up for locking them out of (I'm guessing) a few square miles of prime fishing grounds struck me as a very smart move.

Now this is of interest to me, not because I think it'll be wildly successful: I don't. I think it's more likely to end up being too expensive- particularly in maintenance costs- and uncompetitive against other sources. But I don't know and neither does anyone else. So even though this is beyond the preliminary test stages, and toeing over into commercial development, it's still very much experimental. But now the experiment is economic rather than technological.

And I very much like that. I'd like to see many more such experiments with other renewable technologies. Many, even most, may turn out to be economic failures, but we won't find the successes until we try many different ones.


splord said...

I think it's pretty cool, too... even if it turns out do be commercially nonviable.

(and I'm seeing the Oregon coast)

pygalgia said...

The equation for tidal energy is actually one of the best potential energies available. It's the damn mechanics that are a bitch.
I may be citing this article in the future.

Demeur said...

They're going to build a test unit up here on the Puget Sound this year. From what I've heard they are economically viable. There's one in operation in NY city (east river). If the test goes well here they'll build around 100 of these units in the next few years.

The O'Sheas said...

Great typo: wage energy.

The man is keeping us down!