Oceans May Host Next Wave Of Renewable Energy Researchers say there's huge potential for harnessing ocean waves to create electricity. The Energy Department is backing one effort in Oregon.
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Oceans May Host Next Wave Of Renewable Energy

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Oceans May Host Next Wave Of Renewable Energy

Oceans May Host Next Wave Of Renewable Energy

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

I say renewable energy and you probably think wind or maybe the sun. You might be able to put the ocean's waves on that list, too. The Department of Energy is experimenting with this idea. The department is spending $40 million to build a test facility off the Oregon coast. Here's NPR's Jeff Brady.

JEFF BRADY, BYLINE: Wave energy has a long way to go before it's ready to power the lights in your house. In fact, Belinda Batten of Oregon State University says engineers aren't quite sure how best to capture the power of the water.

BELINDA BATTEN: If you think about the motion of the ocean, it goes up and down when you're out in the water. As you're getting close to the coast, it's going back and forth in surge. Within the ocean, the particles go around in circles. And so we don't know what the right kind of wave energy converter is.

BRADY: Batten says the new offshore test facility the federal government is largely financing will help the industry develop. There is research underway now. At Oregon State, it happens in a cavernous gray building with a concrete tank that's almost as long as a football field. Pedro Lomonaco directs OSU's Wave Research Lab.

PEDRO LOMONACO: So we will run a wave for you now.

BRADY: First, you'll hear the big engine that makes the wave and sends water through the tank.

(SOUNDBITE OF WAVE ENGINE)

BRADY: Then the wave heads toward us.

(SOUNDBITE OF ROLLING WAVE)

BRADY: Lomonaco says so far they've tested model versions of wave energy converters.

LOMONACO: And we will see how it responds to the waves and how much energy we can capture from them.

BRADY: But this testing can only go so far. Belinda Batten says it's important to get out in the ocean.

BATTEN: You need that full-scale wave energy converter out there for some time to prove that it's going to survive, to prove what its cost of energy is, and that's also important to attract venture capitalists.

BRADY: For the small companies involved in wave energy now, it's too expensive to build their own test facilities. That's why the federal government is largely funding the project about six miles off the central Oregon coast. Wave energy backers like Jason Busch are excited. He heads the Oregon Wave Energy Trust, which estimates 10 percent of the world's energy could come from the ocean.

JASON BUSCH: Marine renewables is a vast opportunity. The amount of energy that's in the ocean available for us to utilize is massive, and it's right there. It's right off our shores.

BRADY: There are a few concerns. The technology will be expensive at first, and Busch says more research is needed on the environmental effects of wave energy. The fishing industry also has some worries. In deciding where the offshore test facility should be built, Oregon State involved fishermen to make sure it didn't interfere with their business.

I met Terry Thompson at the docks in Newport. He's a county commissioner and fisherman and says it took some time to get his busy colleagues together in one room, but once they did, picking a location was easy.

TERRY THOMPSON: We don't fish there. Everybody in the room looked around and says we don't fish there either. Ten minutes after we met, here's your site (laughter).

BRADY: Sounds like you all needed to have a conference call (laughter).

THOMPSON: No, we - no, fishermen don't do conference calls. Fishermen do face to face.

BRADY: Construction on the new wave energy test facility is expected to start in 18 months. Jeff Brady, NPR News.

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