Cynthia Thielen

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Wave Energy Ready for Prime Time

By Cynthia Thielen
Dateline: Uppsala, Sweden —
The 8th European Wave and Tidal Energy Conference demonstrates that wave energy is maturing into its commercially viable stage. Co-sponsored by three global utilities, EWTEC 2009 has more than 400 attendees and presenters from all over the world, including China, Japan, Australia, Europe, Ireland, United Kingdom and Hawai'i. In the initial meeting, I encouraged wave energy developers to select Hawai'i to deploy and test their devices. The Hawai'i Clean Energy Initiative sets a 70 percent clean energy goal by 2030, and we cannot meet that goal without wave energy.
Global corporate giants such as Vattenfall have established in-house ocean energy programs, aiming for a fast breakthrough.
Statkraft, Europe's largest generator of renewable energy, is advertising for 30 scientific positions in wave energy. It sees a huge potential: "Worldwide the recoverable resources are estimated to around 6,000 TWh/year for wave power."
The third corporate sponsor, Fortum Energy company, is working on a full-scale demonstration wave power plant. When finalized in 2011, it will be the biggest wave power plant in the world. These corporate leaders are stepping up with money and employees, as they see wave energy is the most concentrated form of clean renewable energy readily available.
Even more impressive is the leadership of universities in Europe, Ireland and the U.K. At the University of Uppsala in Sweden, there are more than ten doctoral students who specialize in wave energy. Three wave energy converters are deployed at its Lysekil research site. With experienced and dedicated faculty, these students and Uppsala University are worldwide leaders.
Due in part to the recommendation of a Hawai'i utility executive at the last EWTEC in 2007, this year's session included a number of presentations on grid connection challenges. This is another sign of nearing commercialization phase, as connection issues become resolved. In response to my question, a scientific presenter from University College Cork, Ireland, concurred that wave power is essentially a "firm power" in Hawai'i, due to its reliability and advanced NOAA forecasts of ocean conditions. This gives wave power the advantage over wind, he noted.
Of particular interest and applicability to Hawai'i was the presentation on the Mutriku Wave Power Plant in the Basque region. With a start-up date of December 2009, this is the world's first commercial project to be installed in a breakwater. It uses an oscillating water column developed by WaveGen (now Voith Hydro). Parts were manufactured on site, creating a job/economic boost. The estimated annual energy output is 600,000 kWh. Hawai'i, with its existing breakwaters or future ones, is an excellent location for this technology. At my urging, WaveGen came to Hawai'i for meetings and soon will return.
Wave energy test sites are multiplying. WaveHub in England will be letting wave-energy converter companies "plug in" in 2010. Power from its 20 MW capacity will be fed into the electric grid. Not to be left behind, France soon will have its SEM-REV test site in generation in the ocean near the Loire Valley.
The University of Hawai'i has already been designated as one of two National Marine Renewable Energy Test Centers. Located at UH's Hawai'i Natural Energy Institute, the five-year designation comes with $1 million per year funding.
So how does Hawai'i catch up with Ireland, the U.K. and Europe? First, the University of Hawai'i at Manoa needs support and encouragement to establish a wave energy graduate program, with subject-matter experienced faculty. With Hawai'i's robust wave climate and the Hawai'i Clean Energy Initiative in place, we need this wave energy graduate program to attract future leaders in this field.
Second, HNEI should aggressively designate wave renewable energy zones in conjunction with the renewable energy facilitator, a position created by the Legislature. HNEI should direct preparation of the environmental reviews for these zones without delay.
Third, our congressional delegation should work for wave energy designated funding in its energy legislation. These funds can supplement the HNEI annual allocation to assist WEC companies with start-up and installation costs.
Fourth, the Legislature should enact an amended Act 221, to incentivize wave energy investors.
The ocean contains far more energy per square meter, significantly surpassing wind or solar power. We simply cannot reach the Clean Energy Initiative's goal without tapping this constant, clean energy. We must act now to light up our Islands and our future with Hawai'i's energy-dense ocean power.
Rep. Cynthia Thielen R-50th (Kailua, Kane'ohe Bay) wrote this commentary for The Advertiser.