With support from the Energy Department and the U.S. Navy, a prototype wave energy device has advanced successfully from initial concept to grid-connected, open-sea pilot testing. The device, called Azura, was recently launched and installed in a 30-meter test berth at the Navy’s Wave Energy Test Site (WETS) in Kaneohe Bay, on the island of Oahu, Hawaii. This pilot testing is now giving U.S. researchers the opportunity to monitor and evaluate the long-term performance of the nation’s first grid-connected wave energy converter (WEC) device to be independently tested by a third party — the University of Hawaii — in the open ocean.
The project supports the Energy Department’s mission to research, test, and develop innovative technologies capable of generating renewable, environmentally responsible, and cost-effective electricity from clean energy resources, including water. Marine and hydrokinetic (MHK) technologies, which generate power from waves, tides, or currents, are at an early but promising stage of development. Many coastal areas in the United States have strong wave and tidal resources, and more than 50% of the U.S. population lives within 50 miles of a coastline, making transmission from these resources more economical. With further progress towards commercialization, MHK technologies could make substantial contributions to our nation’s electricity needs. To accelerate commercialization of wave energy devices, the Energy Department funds research and development — from laboratory and field-testing of individual components, up to demonstration and deployment of complete utility-scale systems.
The first phase of Azura’s development involved testing a smaller prototype in a wave tank and later deploying a prototype — at the same scale as the new deployment — in a controlled, open-sea area off the coast of Oregon in 2014. Those successful tests helped Azura’s developer, Northwest Energy Innovations (NWEI) of Portland, Oregon, verify the functionality of the device while collecting comprehensive performance data that could lower the cost of wave energy technologies in the future.
To further advance Azura towards commercialization, NWEI recently launched its grid-connected 20kW demonstration project at WETS. The current phase of in-water testing at the WETS’s 30-meter test berth has already proven valuable in gathering performance and reliability data from the device in deepwater, open-ocean conditions. The data will be used to further optimize Azura’s performance and refine existing wave energy computer simulations, ultimately supporting commercialization of this technology.
NWEI, with $5 million in additional funding from the Energy Department, will apply lessons learned from this current phase of development to modify the device design in order to improve its efficiency and reliability. NWEI plans to then test the improved design with a full-scale device rated between 500kW and 1MW at WETS at even deeper test berths of 60 meters to 80 meters over the next several years, further supporting efforts to build a robust and competitive MHK industry in the United States.