Riding the Wave: Ocean Renewable Energy on the Oregon Coast

La Rance Tidal Barrage
La Rance Tidal Barrage, in the Rance River estuary, Brittany, France, opened in 1966. It was the world’s first tidal energy system, and still the world’s second largest system, with a peak rating of 240 MW. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

Energy – where it comes from, how we use it, how much we pay for it, and how we make the transition to an independent renewable energy future – will define us as Oregonians for generations to come. In 2007, we passed energy legislation – including renewable electricity and renewable fuels standards – that will keep Oregon in the forefront of the fight against climate change, and move us toward a clean energy future. Under these standards, 25% of Oregon’s electricity will come from renewable sources by 2025.
– former governor Ted Kulongoski

The Oregon coastline is among the few places in the world that possess the four key elements necessary to tap into wave energy today: an abundance of energy generated by ocean waves border to border, internationally recognized experts leading the effort to develop the technologies to capture and convert wave power, the ability to supply that power to the grid, and sea ports ready to build, maintain and deploy wave energy conversion devices.
– Oregon Wave Energy Trust

VIVACE wave energy deviceGET READY for the next wave of energy projects in Oregon – offshore wind and wave energy, tidal energy from coastal rivers, energy from the California Current (which runs up the coast), and maybe even ocean thermal energy (OTEC) – ocean renewable energy.

According to a 2011 status report on renewable energy from the Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century (REN21), 2010 saw more than 100 ocean energy projects around the world reach various stages of development. By early 2011, offshore testing facilities were deployed in the United Kingdom, Denmark, Sweden, Canada, Portugal, Spain, Norway, Ireland and the U.S.

The La Rance tidal barrage (see photo above) began generating power off the French coast in 1966 and continues to today. Additional tidal projects have come on line, especially in Russia and China. Research into OTEC (which takes advantage of the temperature difference between surface and deep water) began at the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority in 1974, and continues today at the Hawaii National Marine Renewable Energy Center at the University of Hawaii. Energy from ocean currents is studied at the new Southeast National Marine Renewable Energy Center at Florida Atlantic University in Dania Beach. And a new device called VIVACE (see photo at right), developed at the University of Michigan and being commercialized by Vortex Hydro Energy, can eke out power from currents of less than 3 knots, available in ocean, river and tidal currents around the world.

PowerBuoy wave energy device
Ocean Power Technologies PowerBuoy® “point absorber” wave energy device. The rising and falling of the waves causes the buoy to move freely up and down. The resultant mechanical stroking is converted via a power take-off to drive an electrical generator. The generated power is transmitted ashore via an underwater power cable. Photo courtesy of Ocean Power Technologies.

Ocean energy companies started showing intense interest in obtaining permits here for their devices after an Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) report in 2004 showed Oregon had a huge potential for energy in its coastal waters. To date, one site off of Reedsport has been permitted for testing an Ocean Power Technologies PowerBuoy system (see photo) in conjunction with the Northwest National Marine Renewable Energy Center at Oregon State University in Corvallis. Construction of the test device has begun, and it is expected to be in the water later this year. If tests are successful, a wave energy “park” could be developed in the area.

Here in Clatsop County, there are two potential wave energy projects that are beginning to gather some steam.

Feasibility studies are now underway for development of a series of wave energy devices that would double as marine firing range boundary demarcation and warning devices at the Camp Rilea Armed Forces Training Center in Warrenton. Stan Hutchison, of the Oregon Military Department, told me that the various National Guard stations around the state have a net-zero energy goal for 2020 (meaning that the bases must generate as much energy on site as they use) that will require each base to look at using various renewable energy technologies. Whereas solar is being used in Ontario and Christmas Valley, and solar, wind and geothermal in southern Oregon, at Camp Rilea, wind and wave energy will be the main contributors towards the net-zero energy goal. As Camp Rilea is also the new headquarters for emergency management in Clatsop County, Hutchison explained that renewable energy will be even more important, in case a repeat of the kind of disaster that struck the North Coast here in 2007 (The Great Gale) occurs, and we are cut off from supplies of fuel, as happened then. “We used vehicle fuel for the generators in 2007, and that left nothing for emergency vehicles. We don’t want to be in that situation again,” said Hutchison. Feasibility study results will be available by the summer. Hutchison said that the results would be shared with the community, and the whole process will be transparent.

Limpet OWC
Limpet (Land Installed Marine Powered Energy Transformer) energy converter sited on the island of Islay, off Scotland’s west coast. Terminator devices extend perpendicular to the direction of wave travel and capture or reflect the power of the wave. These devices are typically onshore or nearshore. The oscillating water column is a form of terminator in which water enters through a subsurface opening into a chamber with air trapped above it. The wave action causes the captured water column to move up and down like a piston to force the air though an opening connected to a turbine. Photo courtesy of Voith Hydro Wavegen Ltd.

Clatsop County is considering another very interesting wave energy project. The South Jetty that juts into the Columbia River Bar is due to be rebuilt by the Army Corps of Engineers in the near future. The county is investigating having a series of oscillating water column (OWC) wave energy devices (see photo) built right into the jetty rock structure, and collecting and using the generated power locally. Douglas County is investigating this same technology, and has received a preliminary permit to test the system.

After the initial flurry of activity on the Oregon coast, the ocean renewable energy industry has sorted itself out, and the state and other stakeholders have set about planning for an orderly ascendance of this newest of uses of the territorial sea (up to 3 miles out). While the 500 MW of energy available in the waves off the coast is tempting, there is a long way to go to realizing even a fraction of that potential. Christopher Paddon, sustainable energy technician program administrator at Clatsop Community College, told me that “the wave energy industry is where the wind energy industry was in the 70s.” He’s not optimistic that the industry will take hold in a big way in Oregon. But the state, coastal counties, and the industry are hoping that wave energy, along with the other ocean renewable energy technologies, will supply not only energy, but jobs and hope for a better future for our state. The ride could be bumpy, but will definitely be interesting. Stay tuned.

The Territorial Sea Plan Working Group, which met in Astoria in December, will be seeking public comment on the state’s new territorial sea plan, with inclusion of ocean energy, at two meetings in Clatsop County on February 17:

Camp Rilea: 11 am – 2:30 pm
Cannon Beach: 5:30 – 9 pm

For more details, see the Oregon Ocean web page.


Ocean Renewable Energy Group (OREG) – The Ocean Renewable Energy Group (OREG) aligns industry, academia and government to ensure that Canada is a leader in providing ocean energy solutions to a world market. OREG works to advance the wave energy, tidal energy, and in-stream (hydrokinetic) energy industries in Canada and internationally.

Oregon Wave Energy Trust (OWET) – OWET is a nonprofit public-private partnership funded by the Oregon Innovation Council. Its mission is to support the responsible development of wave energy in Oregon. OWET’s goal is to power two Oregon communities with ocean energy by 2025.

Mapping and Assessment of the United States Ocean Wave Energy Resource – This project estimates the naturally available and technically recoverable U.S. wave energy resources, using a 51-month Wavewatch III hindcast database developed especially for this study by National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA’s) National Centers for Environmental Prediction.

EPRI Ocean Energy Web Page - “Ocean energy” is a term used to describe all forms of renewable energy derived from the sea including wave energy, tidal energy, river current, ocean current energy, offshore wind, salinity gradient energy and ocean thermal gradient energy.

E2I EPRI Survey and Characterization of Potential Offshore Wave Energy Sites in Oregon – The purpose of this report is to identify and characterize potential offshore sites in Oregon for a 1,500 MWh annual energy output (500kW at 40% capacity factor) wave energy power plant feasibility demonstration and an envisioned 300,000 MWh per year (100 MW at 40% capacity factor) commercial plant.

Supporting the Oregon Territorial Sea Plan Revision: Oregon Fishing Community Mapping Project – The state of Oregon is developing a comprehensive plan to guide the potential siting of renewable ocean energy projects in Oregon’s Territorial Sea. To this end, the state is revising its Territorial Sea Plan (TSP), and has begun collecting information on the spatial extent of human uses that provide economic and socio-cultural benefits. One data gap identified was the distribution and spatial extent of commercial, charter, and recreational fisheries. Ecotrust and others engaged in collecting relevant information on these use activities. Our research team developed and deployed an interactive, custom computer interview instrument, Open OceanMap, to collect geo-referenced information from commercial, charter, and recreational fishermen about the extent and relative importance of Oregon marine waters.

VIVACE (Vortex Induced Vibration Aquatic Clean Energy): A New Concept to Harness Energy from Ocean/River Currents – slide presentation from Michael M. Bernitsas, Ph.D.: Professor UofM, Director, Marine Renewable Energy Lab, CEO and CTO, Vortex Hydro Energy.

Goal 19 – Ocean Planning, General Information for Clatsop County – The county’s Comprehensive Plan does not include a Goal 19 element.  In response to interest in ocean renewable energy (wind and wave) development along the Oregon coast, Clatsop County is considering comprehensive plan, plan/zone map, and zoning ordinance amendments that will address permanent structures in the territorial sea.  These include wave and wind energy devices, cables and pipelines, buoys, and other fixed structures in the territorial sea.

Ocean Energy Systems (OES) – As the authoritative international voice on ocean energy we collaborate internationally to accelerate the viability, uptake and acceptance of ocean energy systems in an environmentally acceptable manner.

OCS Alternative Energy and Alternate Use Guide for Wave Energy – The United States Department of the Interior, Minerals Management Service (MMS), has prepared a final programmatic EIS in support of the establishment of a program for authorizing alternative energy and alternate use (AEAU) activities on the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS), as authorized by Section 388 of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 (EPAct), and codified in subsection 8(p) of the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA).

Oregon Surfrider Foundation Wave Energy and Territorial Sea Plan Campaign – The Oregon Chapters of Surfrider Foundation have been involved with wave energy development and the territorial sea planning process for over 5 years.

Ocean Power Technologies (OPT) – OPT is a leading renewable energy company specializing in cost-effective, advanced, and environmentally sound offshore wave power technology.

The Washington State Ocean Energy Conference: Deep Water Wind and an Ocean Energy Economy, Kitsap Conference Center, November 8-9 2011, Bremerton, WA – Program and Agenda.

Voith Hydro Wavegen Limited -A world leader in wave energy and wave power. Developed and operate Limpet, the world’s first commercial-scale wave energy device that generates wave energy for the grid.

The Hawai’i National Marine Renewable Energy Center (HINMREC) – Their mission is to facilitate development and commercialization of wave energy conversion (WEC) devices and ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC) systems.

Oregon Shores Convservation Coalition (OSCC) Board Position on Renewable Ocean Energy – Oregon Shores supports effort to consider and responsibly test new ocean renewable energy technologies to help the state of Oregon, and the nation, move energy production away from fossil fuels and toward renewable energy sources.

WETGEN (Wave Energy Turbine Generator) – The home for the HANNA Wave Energy Turbine.  The device harvests energy from ocean waves by means of the OWC (Oscillating Water Column) principle.

Oregon Coastal Zone Management Association (OCZMA) Ocean Policy/Marine Reserves/Wave Energy – A growing number of people, organizations, and foundations take a strong interest in state and federal ocean policy. And, because technology is evolving so rapidly, today, many new uses of the Pacific Ocean are being proposed. This represents big challenges and opportunities. And, it guarantees debates about ocean policy will become increasingly politicized and polarized over the next few years. Oregon Coast residents who care deeply about the marine environment, and, who seek to maintain access to recreational and commercial fisheries, should follow these ocean policy developments.

Our Ocean – A coalition of conservationists, scientists, ocean users, local leaders and business people from around the state working to preserve Oregon’s coastal legacy. Coalition members include: Audubon Society of Portland, Coast Range Association, Environment Oregon, Natural Resources Defense Council, Oceana, Oregon Shores Conservation Coalition, Pew Environment Group, Surfrider Foundation.

Marine Current Turbines Limited – Set up to pioneer the technical and commercial development of tidal stream turbines.

Pelamis Wave Power - The Pelamis absorbs the energy of ocean waves and converts it into electricity.  The machine floats semi-submerged on the surface of the water and is made up of a number of cylindrical sections joined together by hinged joints.  As waves pass down the length of the machine these sections flex relative to one another.  The motion at each hinged joint is resisted by hydraulic cylinders which pump fluid into high pressure accumulators allowing electrical generation to be smooth and continuous.

Grays Harbor Ocean Energy Company – The Grays Harbor Ocean Energy Company was founded in 2007 in Seattle, Washington to develop large offshore renewable energy projects with focus on the USA.

Northwest National Marine Renewable Energy Center (NNMREC) – NNMREC is a partnership between Oregon State University (OSU) and the University of Washington (UW). OSU focuses on wave energy. UW focuses on tidal energy. Both universities collaborate with each other and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) on research, education, outreach, and engagement.

By Bob Goldberg

Bob moved to Astoria from Seattle in 2005, on the day Katrina hit New Orleans. He started writing for HIPFiSH in 2007. With a previous career as an environmental engineer with the Washington State Department of Ecology and a researcher at various companies and national labs, Bob tries to bring his scientific (i.e. objective) background to journalism. Outside the HIPFiSH world, Bob does programming on KMUN radio, sings tenor in the North Coast Chorale, tutors at Clatsop Community College, and helps with websites. He lives in Astoria with his beautiful and wonderful wife, his son and two cats.