For the first time in human history, a wave energy converter (or WEC) has been connected to the US energy grid. A prototype called the Azura has been installed at the US Navy's Wave Energy Test Site in Kaneohe Bay off the coast of Hawaii. The 42-ton, bright yellow Azura is the first of what the US Department of Energy (or DoE) says could be a fleet of WEC's that could supply clean, renewable power to America's coastal cities. With 50 percent of America's population living along the coast line, the potential for this technology is huge, if Northwest Energy Innovations (NWEI), the company that developed the Azura in cooperation with the DoE, can get it right.
There have been a lot of experiments with generating electricity by harnessing the energy of ocean wave waves, tides, and currents over the years, but most of these efforts have been small scale proof of concept studies. It turns out that most of that work has been done. The concept works, brilliantly. The focus for wave energy researchers and engineers now is developing low cost industrial scale generating systems. (NWEI) is doing now with help from the US Navy.
Though it hasn't always grabbed headlines, this is in keeping with the US government's support of renewable technologies. Much of the development of basic work on solar and wind generating technologies, as well as the R&D to turn the basic technologies into inexpensive industrial scale applications was paid for with funding from the US Department of Energy.
In recent years, as solar and wind generation have begun accounting for more and more of the global energy generation market, they have become cheaper, but, as Matt Dozier, from the DoE's Office of Public Affairs point out, that didn't happen overnight. "Decades of research, testing and investment-much of it supported by Energy Department initiatives-have given us more reliable, cost-effective hardware, encouraging more installations and driving down energy prices. The same needs to happen for wave power." And that's exactly what NWEI is working on with the Azura.
Unlike many of its ocean energy generator predecessors, the Azura can harness movement in 360 degrees. Not only does it generate energy moving side to side, it also generates energy by bobbing up and down.
Though it is a half-scale demonstrator, Azura is a working device, connected to Hawaii's electrical grid, generating about 20 kilowatts. In 2017, during the next phase of the project, a full-scale version of Azura will be installed in an area with deeper seas and much bigger waves. That device is expected to generate about 1 megawatt, enough energy to power several hundred homes.
As this experiment continues, observers from the University of Hawaii, NWEI, and the DoE will monitor and evaluate Azura's long-term performance and with an eye toward any improvements that could be designed into the full-scale version. Data collected will also enable the team to develop a more accurate assessment of the technology's Levelized Cost of Energy (LCOE), which includes capital cost, project development cost, life cycle costs and annual energy production.