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Wave energy tests under way in Oregon

New facility may help establish baseline tech and environmental data

Wave energy may be coming into its own.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — The unrelenting energy of ocean waves has the potential to generate large and sustainable amounts of electricity, but the technology to harness that energy is still in its infancy.

But researchers hope to get a better handle on how to convert the motion of waves into usable power after studying the The Ocean Sentinel, a $1.5 million device developed by the Northwest National Marine Renewable Energy Center at Oregon State University.

The Ocean Sentinel, which started operating in late August off the coast of Newport, Oregon, is one of the first public wave energy testing systems in the United State. It will enable industry and academic researchers to test new technology that may help advance this promising form of sustainable energy.

The carefully chosen test site will also enable researchers to study potential impacts to the marine environment, whether they might come from electromagnetic fields, changes in acoustics, or other factors. Any changes in sediments, invertebrates or fish will be monitored closely.

“The Ocean Sentinel will provide a standardized, accurate system to compare various wave energy technologies, including systems that may be better for one type of wave situation or another,” said Sean Moran, ocean test facilities manager with NNMREC.

“We have to find out more about which technologies work best, in what conditions, and what environmental impacts there may be,” Moran said. “We’re not assuming anything. We’re first trying to answer the question, ‘Is this a good idea or not?’ And if some technology doesn’t work as well, we want to find that out quickly, and cheaply, and the Ocean Sentinel will help us do that.”

Some energy researchers and engineers say that developing wave energy will require different technologies for different wave conditions. The Ocean Sentinel will be able to measure wave amplitude, device energy output, ocean currents, wind speeds, extremes of wave height and other data.

This initiative was made possible by support from the U.S. Department of Energy, the Oregon Department of Energy, and the Oregon Wave Energy Trust.

“We’re still trying to figure out what will happen when some of these devices have to stand up to 50-foot waves,” Moran said. “The ocean environment is very challenging, especially off Oregon where we have such a powerful wave energy resource.”

The one-square-mile site where the Ocean Sentinel will operate, about two miles northwest of Yaquina Head, has been carefully studied, both for its physical and biological characteristics.

A third part of the program is human dimensions research and public outreach, engagement and education. Toward that goal, three public hearings are being planned in August to discuss the possibility of siting a different test facility – the Pacific Marine Energy Center – in one of four possible locations: Newport, Reedsport, Coos Bay, or Camp Rilea near Warrenton. That $8 million grid-connected center would be a continuation and expansion of the work made possible today by the Ocean Sentinel.

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