DOE Looking to Harness Energy From Ocean Waves Off Hawaii

By Susan Jones | May 18, 2012 | 11:03am EDT

( - Call it the "wave" of the future -- the far-away, fossil-fuel-free future, that is.

The U.S. Energy Department says it has half-a-million dollars to spend this year to test technologies that may be able to harness energy from ocean waves. The goal is to someday supply clean, renewable power to highly-populated coastal regions.

The $500,000 in taxpayer money will support one project to deploy and test a wave-energy conversion device for one year at the U.S. Navy's Wave Energy Test Site in Kaneohe Bay, on the Hawaiian island of Oahu. The device must be "substantially complete and ready for testing and data collection without significant modification."

As part of its alternative-energy agenda, the Obama administration is seeking wave-power technologies that "could further develop" the nation's ocean energy resources, create new industries and new jobs in America, and secure U.S. leadership in the global race for clean energy technologies, the Energy Department said in its May 18 announcement.

The Energy Department estimates that there are over 1,170 terawatt hours per year of electric generation available from wave energy off U.S. coasts, although "not all of this resource potential can realistically be developed." (The U.S. uses 4,000 terawatt hours of electricity each year.)

Industry attempts to harness energy from ocean waves have not been successful.

In 2007, Pacific Gas & Electric began examining the feasibility of using energy from waves as part of its shift to renewables. But a few years later, the utility announced it was suspending its project off the coast of Humboldt County, Calif.

"The decision was made after several major challenges made the project unviable at its proposed configuration and location," PG&E said in a news release posted on its website. Moreover, "costs of the project were higher than projected."

The utility said it will continue to "seek cost-effective renewable resources" for its California customers -- including wave-energy development.

"The valuable lessons learned through the Humboldt project will help regulators, power providers and local communities understand and deal with the complex issues raised by this promising technology."

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