2012-06-29

The Navy Finds Extra Power In The Waves Beneath Its Ships

The power created by the up-and-down motion of the ocean has usually been written off as a useless power source. But the Navy is using enormous buoys to help it create its own source of renewable energy.

The U.S. Navy, like other federal agencies, is under strict orders: buy half of its renewable energy purchases from new sources. Executive Order 1342 means the military and feds are searching for new sources of clean power.

The U.S. Navy has found it, fittingly, in wave power. Long seen as impractical, advances in materials and engineering have made converting of wave energy into electricity not just practical, but increasingly economical, at the commercial scale. Ocean Power Technologies (OPT), which has been manufacturing power buoys for specialized applications such as Marine bases or demonstration projects, is now poised to become a full-fledged utility off the coast of Oregon.

The U.S.'s first utility-scale, commercial "wave park" is now moving through the final permitting stages. Located 2.5 miles offshore near Reedsport, Oregon, the park will generate about 1.5 megawatts, enough to power more than 320 homes, using 10 massive "PB150s," power buoys. The buoys, 115 feet tall, will float almost entirely under the surface. Only a small yellow buoy is seen from above. As waves roll past, the rise and fall of the buoys drives an internal generator, which sends electricity back to the mainland grid.

The wave park in Oregon, and others like it, can ultimately scale-up to 50 or 100 megawatts. Yet OPT says that’s just the beginning. It’s hard at work on the "PB500," a power buoy that generates three times more energy than its predecessors.

Just as wind turbines appear to be exploding in size — new blades are longer than football fields—the sky (or the sea) may be the limit for the future of wave power.

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