Portland shipyard works on energy of the future: Column
By Don Brunell
Shipyard workers in Portland are building the first commercial-scale wave energy buoy which, if it works, could be part of a system providing electricity to communities along our nation’s coastline.
Vigor’s shipyard has a $6.5 million contract to construct an 826-ton buoy that can generate 1.25 MW (megawatts) of electricity. Its principal selling point is it generates electricity without CO2 or other greenhouse gas emissions.
Vigor estimates each buoy would offset 3,000 tons of carbon releases a year and if tied together with 100 similar generating platforms, could provide enough electricity to power 18,750 homes.
While it may not be the first commercial wave energy project, it will be one of the largest. The first started generating electricity in 2000 on remote Scotland’s Islay Island inhabited by 3,200 people.
The Portland project is jointly funded by the Irish and American governments. An Irish company, Ocean Energy, is the impetus behind the project, which it started 15 years ago with a small test buoy in Galway Bay along the northwest Irish coast.
Even though the first device broke its anchor in a severe winter storm, Ocean Energy, believes it has the technology to move forward. When completed, the buoy will be towed to Hawaii and anchored in the Navy’s wave energy test site off Oahu’s shores.
According to The Irish Times, tidal power generation is an integral part of Ireland’s offshore renewable energy development plan. The newspaper identifies potential resources of more than 70 GW (gigawatts) of electricity coming from Irish waters – more than 14 times Ireland’s current energy demand.
For background, the U.S. Energy Dept. estimates it takes 431 large wind turbines and 3.125 million solar panels to produce a gigawatt of electricity, so the Irish wave electricity program is very ambitious.
Islands, such as Ireland and Hawaii, stand to benefit the most because high electricity rates have been attributed to the difficulty of establishing power grids and obtaining reasonably priced generating fuels. There is a history of reliance on either coal or oil to generate electricity. Wave energy offers a viable alternative to provide ample power supplies at lower electric costs.
They are not blessed with inexpensive hydropower, which people on our west coast enjoy. Not surprisingly, Hawaiian electric rates are the nation’s highest – more than triple the rates in Washington.
Hawaiian electric utilities focused efforts on switching from higher CO2 oil to Liquefied National Gas (LNG) and on renewables. Utility leaders are bringing more roof-top solar online, and renewables are now 30 percent of electricity supply. However, in stormy Ireland solar gains are much harder, so they turned to wave power.
Ocean waves contain tremendous energy, the U.S. Energy Information Agency reported. “The theoretical annual energy potential of waves off the coasts of the United States is estimated to be as much as 2.64 trillion kilowatt hours, or the equivalent of about 66 percent of U.S. electricity generation in 2017.”
Ocean Energy believes wave energy will have an estimated $18 billion impact on Ireland’s economy by 2050. “Similarly, the U.S. has a substantial wave energy resource, which could deliver up to 15 percent. In Oregon, the estimated potential value to the local economy is $2.4 billion per year with an associated 13,630 jobs,” Vigor reported.
While wave energy is renewable and environmentally friendly, it is not suitable for all locations. Towns near oceans will directly benefit, and the impact of the marine ecosystem, vessel traffic, noise and visual pollution, and performance in rough weather is yet to be determined.
Hopefully, wave power can be perfected and become an important part of the electric grid.
Don Brunell is a business analyst, writer and columnist. He retired as president of the Association of Washington Business. He can be contacted at TheBrunells@msn.com.