The U.S. Navy is ramping up its efforts to harvest energy from the ocean with a new research project slated for its Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii wave power test facility. The new project promises to open up a raft of new opportunities for companies that are developing ocean power technologies, because it is driven by private sector innovation rather than deploying in-house research.
The current phase, which partners the Navy with funding from the Department of Energy, involves selecting contractors that will deploy buoys designed to capture energy from the motion of ocean waves and convert it to electricity.
A brief history of federal funding for ocean energy
Though the Navy’s alternative energy programs under President Obama are encountering criticism from certain legislators, the Kaneohe Bay facility is a bipartisan operation that predates the Obama Administration. It was constructed by the Naval Facilities Engineering Command (NAVFAC) in 2003, back when President Bush was Commander-in-Chief.
By June 2004, a demonstration-scale wave energy buoy was deployed at the site, known as the Wave Energy Test Site, under an ongoing research project that has partnered the Navy with the University of Hawaii’s National Marine Renewable Energy Center.
The buoy, developed by the company Ocean Power Technologies, is a 40 kilowatt device situated in waters about 100 feet deep. It operates by the up-and-down motion of waves, which drives an onboard generator. The electricity is transmitted to shore by cable.
Expanding the Navy's ocean energy research
The new project aims to develop wave energy buoys with a commercial scale capacity in the range of 300 to 500 kilowatts. These larger buoys will be positioned at greater depths and will require a new permitting process, as well as re-equipping the test center with new moorings and cables.
At a recent NAVFAC conference introducing new ocean energy technology from dozens of contractors that are vying for inclusion in the project, NAVFAC Pacific Vice Commander Capt. Pete Lynch explained: “The Navy is committed to reducing our dependence on fossil fuels and is leading the way on the development of viable, renewable energy sources. NAVFAC Pacific is working on ways to make the Navy's shore infrastructure more energy independent and strengthen our energy security position. The ocean is an untapped resource and possible source of renewable energy.”