A new renewable technology
Marine renewable energy – wave energy and offshore wind – is an exciting new component of renewable energy development. Wave energy devices come in many forms. Some devices are better suited for deep waters, some for shallow waters, and some are intended to be mounted on shore infrastructure like jetties. Some devices install power equipment and produce electricity directly, others generate pressure in a pipe to power an on-shore generator. (Some examples
Oregon State University’s Northwest National Marine Renewable Energy Center is the primary testing center for wave energy device development. NNMREC currently offers indoor wave energy testing equipment for early stage designs in Corvallis, as well as the Newport Open Ocean Test Site, a square mile located off the coast of Newport
Floating test equipment called the Ocean Sentinel
, deployed in summer months, tests the performance of a reduced-scale energy device.
In January 2013, NNMREC selected Newport as the site for the Pacific Marine Energy Center (below). PMEC will be located about five miles from shore and will be the second facility in the world where full-scale devices can plug into the electricity grid.
While offshore wind energy will eventually take place in Oregon, the shallow depths and wind regimes of the east coast have made New Jersey, Rhode Island and Massachusetts the state pioneers of offshore wind. Benefits of offshore wind include mature technology with high power conversion rates and better-known environmental effects. Because the seafloor is much deeper in Oregon, offshore wind installations will be platform-based (see WindFloat
Ocean thermal energy conversion is not considered a suitable application in Oregon’s waters.
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Oregon’s unique opportunity
Oregon has been identified as an ideal location for wave energy conversion based primarily on its tremendous wave resource and coastline transmission capacity. This combination of factors, along with Oregon State University’s research facilities and the state’s long-term commitment to renewable energy, positions Oregon to lead the nation in wave energy development.
Leading this development offers Oregon many benefits, including economic development in coastal communities, increased manufacturing opportunity for the state’s high-quality metal fabricators and further recognition for Oregon’s renewable energy industry.
In 2007, the state Oregon Innovation Council selected wave energy as an economic innovation focus. As a result of this funding, the Oregon Wave Energy Trust
, a non-profit, public-private partnership was established. OWET’s goal is responsible development of wave energy projects in Oregon.
How much power is in Oregon’s ocean?
No doubt, there is a lot of power in Oregon’s ocean.
According to a 2011 study by the Electric Policy Research Institute, Oregon’s total annual available wave energy in the inner shelf alone is equal to 143 terawatt-hours per year (TWh/yr), or 143 billion kilowatt-hours per year (KWh/yr). That's equal to six Grande Coulee dams and enough energy to power 28 million homes!
Oregon has twice the inner shelf resource than Washington state (inner shelf refers to notional 50-meter depth.) The outer shelf (notional 200-meter depth contour) has another 179 TWh/year.
We know we will never (and should never) pull all of the available power from the ocean, but the strong resource potential is one of the principal reasons why developers look to Oregon. At the same time, the ocean’s extraordinary power means that durability and survivability of mechanical devices in marine environments are key performance requirements for any device (wave
Why are marine renewable energy projects valuable to the Oregon coast?
The Oregon coast has no significant electric generating resources. Almost all of the electricity consumed on the Oregon coast is brought across the state from eastern Oregon and eastern Washington.
As a result, the Oregon coast is a system “sink” – costly infrastructure investments such as voltage boosters are required to get enough power to the end of the line. All transmission lines to the coast are vitally important to deliver electricity and disruptions have a cascading effect. Industrial growth is limited by the inability to deliver much more power to the coast.
Coastal electricity loads vary from 500 megawatts (summer) to 900 megawatts (winter).
Modeled estimates show that the coastal grid could absorb 430 megawatts of new distributed energy generation without requiring infrastructure upgrades to cross-coast range transmission.
Marine renewable energy projects are also valuable because the power production is expected to be stable. While solar and wind installations have many unique benefits, the sun cycles on and off daily and wind can ramp up or down quickly. Ocean waves and winds are relatively constant and change seasonally. Predictability is very important to utilities and electric grid operators.
Regulation of marine renewable energy
Within three nautical miles
of the state coastline is the Oregon Territorial Sea. The Territorial Sea and seafloor are considered state waters and under the jurisdiction of the state. Beyond the Territorial Sea boundary is the Outer Continental Shelf, which is under federal jurisdiction.
For this reason, regulation of marine renewable energy depends on whether the project is in Oregon’s waters or federal waters. If the project is located in Oregon’s Territorial Sea, it must follow the regulatory structure laid out in Part 5 of the Territorial Sea Plan (link coming soon), adopted by the state in January 2013. Many state permits and standards govern the siting and development of marine renewable energy in the Territorial Sea. A project must meet ecological, fisheries and visual aesthetic standards as well as go through the typical challenges of developing a new technology, installing a power project, delivering power to a customer and interconnecting with the electric grid.
If the project is in federal waters, it must receive an ocean energy lease from the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.
In either case, the project must receive a license from the Federal Regulatory Energy Commission. A power project does not have to receive a federal energy license if it is installed in the ocean without being connected to the grid.
The first wave energy project to receive a FERC license was Ocean Power Technologies’ Reedsport project.