Beavers Going Blue: OSU Helps First Commercial Wave Energy Center

Oregon State University is working to make the energy supply required by the U.S. and the world more sustainable, and they just got a step closer to this goal.  

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, almost 90% of the energy consumed within the country in 2019 was from non-renewable sources – petroleum, natural gas, and coal. Here in Oregon, we have a major renewable, sustainable energy creator flanking our west coast – the ocean. While wave energy is still a relatively new technology that is being researched, large institutes at the forefront of green energy, including OSU, are pushing ahead to produce usable forms of energy for the public.

PacWave South

(A global map of potential wave energies that may be produced from the world’s oceans; the regions that have some of the highest capabilities include the U.S. Pacific Northwest coast, Chile, southern parts of Australia, and some western European countries. Map from Exowave.com )

Earlier this month, OSU was issued a license to construct the nation’s first commercially-connected wave energy center off the coast of Newport. The facility, called PacWave South, will be the first wave energy test site in the U.S. to be connected to a commercial grid, providing homes in the area with electricity generated by off-shore wave movement.  

For those Oregonians who love the rugged, pristine beaches in the area, don’t worry; the devices that utilize ocean motion to create energy will be located seven miles offshore.  

There are multiple types of these devices, called wave energy converters, currently being developed and used by the U.S. Department of Energy, but they are all similar in that they use the movement of the ocean’s surface to move pieces within the device to generate energy. You can find out more information on the DOE’s PacWave website.   

“Unlike solar and wind, wave energy is more or less always present,” said Jesse Harris, a Graduate Research Assistant in the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department at OSU. “This gives it enormous potential when we consider renewable energy and this is especially true in a region such as the Pacific Northwest where the waves carry large amounts of energy relative to other regions of the world.”  

How Good is Blue Energy? 

Corroborating Harris’s statement, a report by the Electric Power Research Institute found that near-shore – roughly 10-40 miles off the coast – Oregon marine waves hold the ability to produce enough energy to supply around 28 million homes with electricity each year. In comparison, Oregon only has just over four million residents. Global research has found that the Pacific Northwest has some of the highest capacities producing wave energy, along with areas of South America – especially Chile, some Western European countries, and Southern Australia.  

In total, at least $122 million so far has been granted by the DOE towards planning, development, and now construction of the new PacWave facility. While this sounds like a large investment, according to an article published by OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences, development of this blue energy capture is projected to be valued at $700 billion globally in just over 25 years.  

“Currently, wave energy is significantly more expensive than other forms of renewables such as solar, for example,” Harris said, “however, research and development are bringing this cost down substantially.”  

So the new PacWave facility in Newport will be a double-win for the marine energy market as it will continue advancing the DOE’s understanding of wave energy potential, as well as providing Newport residents with renewable energy produced directly from their backyard.  

By: Lauren Zatkos