CORVALLIS, Ore. – University research programs, private development and political interest are all continuing to move forward in initiatives to make the United States, and Oregon in particular, a leader in the development of ocean wave energy – a renewable power source seen as environmentally friendly, cost effective and increasingly practical.

A range of efforts are under way at Oregon State University to improve the technology of wave energy generation. Significant outreach programs with coastal communities are helping to integrate them into the development process. Multiple partners hope to create a national wave energy research and demonstration center in Oregon.

And on May 17, at the invitation of U.S. Congresswoman Darlene Hooley, one of the OSU scientists leading these efforts will discuss the issues with the Subcommittee on Energy and Environment, a part of the Science Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives.

“Congressional leaders want to find out more about how wave power could help address the nation’s energy needs, and what the federal government might do to help,” said Annette von Jouanne, a professor of power electronics and energy systems in the OSU College of Engineering.

“Things are really picking up speed now,” von Jouanne said. “The public, political and agency leaders are understanding how electricity produced by waves could be a significant contributor to our energy portfolio, and people are beginning to see the value of a focused, national center to move research forward.”

In her Congressional discussion, von Jouanne said she also hopes to outline the technological obstacles that must be overcome to commercialize wave energy, the ways that streamlined permitting and agency cooperation could help, and the need for more environmental and ecological studies.

In other recent developments:

  • OSU scientists are already working on a fifth and sixth prototype of novel, direct-drive wave energy generators, with both laboratory and ocean testing anticipated this summer.
  • Preliminary applications by private industry for wave parks off the Oregon Coast have already been submitted to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
  • OSU, the Oregon Department of Energy and other stakeholders are promoting Oregon as the optimal location for the nation’s first commercial wave park.
  • Studies have begun to examine the sociological, biological and ecosystem effects of wave energy systems, and the OSU Hatfield Marine Science Center is coordinating plans for a workshop this September.
  • A Wave Energy Linear Test Bed research facility is being completed in the OSU College of Engineering, funded by multiple partners, to facilitate studies on this technology.
  • Oregon political leaders are assisting in efforts to obtain federal funding for wave energy research and a national wave energy initiative.
  • An international ocean renewable energy conference will be held at OSU this summer.

Experts say wave energy should be able to provide clean, renewable energy with minimal environmental concerns. However, challenges remain in developing ways to tap wave power with systems that are reliable, maintainable and able to survive a tough ocean environment.

Electrical engineers at OSU have been pioneers in the development of new technologies and advanced solutions to these challenges. And Oregon should be a lead player – an independent study has determined that the state is an optimal location for wave energy demonstration. It has an excellent wave energy climate and existing electrical transmission lines that would facilitate bringing power onto the grid.

OSU also has the highest-power energy systems laboratory of any university in the nation, one of the leading research programs on wave energy in the country, and the unique capabilities of the university's O.H. Hinsdale Wave Research Laboratory, including a 340-foot-long wave flume and the world's largest tsunami wave basin.

In the past nine years, OSU has built its wave energy program through strong collaboration with state and federal agencies, private industry, utility companies and coastal communities. Outreach to fishing and crabbing industries has been a key part of the work, and a Port Liaison Project team composed of commercial fishing experts has been involved in wave energy device siting and ocean technical expertise. OSU has also worked with a group called Fishermen Interested in Natural Energy to enable ocean testing in the late summer of 2007, and has located a low impact site for this testing.

“Our commercial fishermen are what you would consider ‘practical’ ocean experts, and they’ve been valuable partners in identifying sites that would cause the least disruption to the state’s economically-important seafood industry,” said Flaxen Conway, a Sea Grant Extension specialist. “They also have been consulted on local ocean environments, the waves, currents, debris and climate history. We’re working together with them to plan a mutually beneficial, future use of the ocean and its resources.”

Research and development of wave energy is still very young, in comparison to other forms of renewable energy such as wind power. But wave power, most likely produced by buoys that are anchored two to three miles offshore and move gently up and down with ocean swells, could produce steady and large amounts of electricity.

Studies have suggested that network of about 500 such buoys could power the business district of downtown Portland. Systems could be scaled up or down in size, whatever is needed to meet demand.

Theoretically, estimates suggest that 0.2 percent of the ocean's untapped energy could power the entire world.

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Annette von Jouanne,