The Leading Edge

Senate, House members want $250 million for ocean R&D

Twenty-four members of the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives want the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to allot $250 million of economic stimulus funds to support marine renewable technologies, including wave and tidal energy.

A dozen senators and an equal number of House members signed letters asking DOE Secretary Steven Chu to allot at least $250 million to marine renewable energy from a total of $2.5 billion of stimulus funding set aside for renewable energy research and development.

“We strongly urge you to direct the Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy to provide at least $250 million out of the $2.5 billion appropriated in H.R. 1 (the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act), to the Water Power R&D program for enhanced support in the research, development, and demonstration of marine renewable technologies,” the senators wrote.

In a separate letter, House members said development of technologies to capture ocean and tidal resources can play a significant role in the U.S.’s economic recovery and expand the nation’s renewable energy portfolio. Increasing the level of federal support and implementing viable program initiatives are critical needs to develop abundant domestic energy resources, the House members said.

The lawmakers recommended that DOE launch a marine renewable energy conversion device verification program. This program would fund and facilitate development, installation, and validation of marine-based projects. The program also would address issues such as evaluating energy resources and environmental monitoring in ocean energy ecosystems.

Congress approves $1.2 million for Florida ocean turbine study

A federal appropriations bill signed by President Obama includes nearly $1.2 million to continue work on a prototype of an underwater turbine that will use ocean currents to generate electricity.

The $1,189,375 grant to the Center for Ocean Energy Technology at Florida Atlantic University was included in a $410 billion omnibus appropriations bill for the 2009 fiscal year. Personnel at the center plan to use the money to help pay for testing and possibly to expand staff as the center moves toward making the turbines a commercial product that can be used in offshore areas.

The center’s underwater turbine is a 20-kW open blade axial-flow horizontal turbine, driven by a three-blade, 3-meter-diameter rotor. The turbine is moored to the ocean floor. The underwater housing contains the generator, gearbox, and mechanical brake. The unit incorporates an array of instrumentation, including underwater cameras; tachometers; and vibration, temperature, tilt, and pressure sensors.

All testing to date has been done on land while the university center studies underwater conditions and seeks federal and state permits to put the first prototype in the water, possibly as soon as this summer, the university said.

The Center for Ocean Energy Technology, also known as the Center for Excellence in Ocean Energy Technology, is a partner with Verdant Power Inc. and has previously proposed projects off the coast of Florida.

OPT receives $1.1 million for Hawaii wave project

Wave energy developer Ocean Power Technologies (OPT) is using an additional $1.1 million in funding from the U.S. Navy to advance an ongoing project to demonstrate a wave energy system in Hawaii.

OPT deployed its PowerBuoy system in October 2008 a mile off the coast of Hawaii. Resembling an ocean buoy, the PowerBuoy system is based on OPT’s proprietary design. The unit is compact and modular in design, generating power by moving up and down on a central spar as waves pass by.

OPT launched the unit under the company’s ongoing program with the Navy for installation of PowerBuoys off the U.S. Marine base at Kaneohe Bay, Oahu. OPT received $1.9 million for the project from the Navy in 2007 and another $300,000 in 2008. The company received the most recent $1.1 million award in April 2009.

During initial commissioning tests, the power produced by the PowerBuoy system was in line with predicted levels, OPT said. The new funds provided by the Navy primarily will be used to support continued upgrades and testing of the PowerBuoy system, for improved ocean durability, the company said.

“This project reflects the ongoing commitment of the U.S. Navy to renewable energy generation and sustainable development,” said OPT Chief Executive Officer Mark Draper. “It furthers the long-standing partnership which OPT has had with the U.S. Navy in developing our core PowerBuoy technology.”

Spending bill includes funds for Washington tidal projects

A federal appropriations bill signed by President Obama includes $475,750 to support tidal energy projects proposed by Snohomish County Public Utility District (PUD) off the coast of Washington.

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., secured the funds, included in a $410 billion omnibus appropriations bill for the current fiscal year signed by the president March 11. Snohomish County PUD said the funds represent vital support for its tidal energy projects. Development and ongoing operation of its renewable energy projects, supported by the federal funding, could result in hundreds of construction, operations, and maintenance jobs, it said.

The utility is studying five tidal energy sites in Puget Sound that, if developed, could produce enough energy for 70,000 homes. Snohomish County PUD launched the multi-year study in 2007 to assess the technical, economic, and environmental viability of the underwater sites. It said it plans to install a pilot project in the sound as early as 2011.

Snohomish County PUD holds Federal Energy Regulatory Commission preliminary permits to study the feasibility of 22.5-MW Admiralty Inlet, 6.2-MW Deception Pass, 3.5-MW Guemes Channel, 5.3-MW San Juan Channel, and 8.3-MW Spieden Channel. It held but later surrendered preliminary permits to study two other tidal projects, 400-kW Agate Passage and 1.4-MW Rich Passage.

Snohomish County PUD is working with several technical partners, including the University of Washington and the Electric Power Research Institute. In 2008, the Department of Energy provided a $1.2 million grant to the utility to support the tidal energy effort in Admiralty Inlet.

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