Wave-energy Tests Underway at Marine Base

The Marine Corps Air Station at Kaneohe Bay maintains and operates the airfield facilities of Marine Corps Base Hawaii in support of the readiness and global projection of DoD and military operating forces. (U.S. Marine Corps photo)
The Marine Corps Air Station at Kaneohe Bay maintains and operates the airfield facilities of Marine Corps Base Hawaii in support of the readiness and global projection of DoD and military operating forces. (U.S. Marine Corps photo)

The Navy, the Marine Corps, representatives from energy companies and local lawmakers joined together Tuesday at a blessing ceremony for a wave-energy test site at Marine Corps Base Hawaii, Kaneohe.

The Navy and Marine Corps are testing different wave-energy conversion technologies that connect to the grid at a wave-energy test site (WETS) approximately 2.5 miles from shore. These are technologies that lawmakers and the electrical utility say could help the state reach its 100 percent renewable energy goal by 2045.

Naval Facilities Engineering Command (NAVFAC) partnered with the Department of Energy's Wind and Water Power Program, the University of Hawaii's Hawaii Natural Energy Institute, the Office of Naval Research and the state to test the wave-energy conversion technologies.

"This signifies a lot of efforts from many," said Kail Macias, technical director at the NAVFAC Engineering and Expeditionary Warfare Center.

Patrick Cross, program manager of ocean energy at Hawaii Natural Energy Institute, said the wave-energy technology is in the early stages of testing and years away from being at the level of commercial-size projects.

"This site is all about testing prototypes and experimental devices to see what breaks, to fix it as we go and learn from that," Cross said.

Cross said HNEI is monitoring the environmental impacts of the devices and the technologies' power performance.

WETS hosts three test berths — or anchors — in the 1.69-square-mile test area; one berth is at the 98-foot water depth, the second is at 197-foot depth and the third at depth of 262 feet.

Two companies already have attached their technology to the berths, and two more expected to join the site in 2017.

Oregon-based Northwest Energy Innovations, with backing from the Navy and the University of Hawaii, launched a wave-energy prototype, called Azura, to connect to Oahu's power grid in the summer of 2015.

Norwegian-based company Fred. Olsen Ltd. launched its own wave-energy conversion testing device in 2015.

Charlottesville, Va.-based Columbia Power Technology and Irish-based Ocean Energy are expected to bring additional wave-energy conversion prototypes in early 2017.

Cynthia Thielen (R, Kailua-Kaneohe Bay) said energy technology like what is being tested at WETS is necessary for the state to get to its goal of 100 percent renewable energy by 2045.

"If you want to get to 100 percent, we have to tap the ocean," Thielen said. "This is the most powerful renewable resource we have, and Hawaii is one of the best locations for it."

Alan Oshima, CEO of Hawaiian Electric Co., said wave-conversion energy as well as a large portfolio of renewable-energy resources will be used to help the electrical utility achieve the state's goal.

"Every technology is going to be looked at," Oshima said. "You can't throw all of your eggs in one basket."

The technology is still in its early stages of testing, and WETS is one of a half-dozen test sites in the nation.

Damian Kunko, vice president of Strategic Marketing Innovations, a national trade association for wave and tidal energy, said wave-energy technology is in the same place as wind technology was in the 1980s.

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