Cookies help us run our site more efficiently.

By clicking “Accept”, you agree to the storing of cookies on your device to enhance site navigation, analyze site usage, and assist in our marketing efforts. View our Privacy Policy for more information or to customize your cookie preferences.

A big battery is replacing this old Massachusetts fossil power plant

News Feed
Wednesday, September 13, 2023

This story was first published by Energy News Network . A battery storage development is replacing a fossil-fuel-burning power plant in western Massachusetts, providing a model that supporters say could be emulated elsewhere. The project is only financially viable, however, because of a unique state incentive…

This story was first published by Energy News Network . A battery storage development is replacing a fossil-fuel-burning power plant in western Massachusetts, providing a model that supporters say could be emulated elsewhere. The project is only financially viable, however, because of a unique state incentive…

This story was first published by Energy News Network . A battery storage development is replacing a fossil-fuel-burning power plant in western Massachusetts, providing a model that supporters say could be emulated elsewhere. The project is only financially viable, however, because of a unique state incentive…
Read the full story here.
Photos courtesy of

With a quantum “squeeze,” clocks could keep even more precise time, MIT researchers propose

More stable clocks could measure quantum phenomena, including the presence of dark matter.

The practice of keeping time hinges on stable oscillations. In a grandfather clock, the length of a second is marked by a single swing of the pendulum. In a digital watch, the vibrations of a quartz crystal mark much smaller fractions of time. And in atomic clocks, the world’s state-of-the-art timekeepers, the oscillations of a laser beam stimulate atoms to vibrate at 9.2 billion times per second. These smallest, most stable divisions of time set the timing for today’s satellite communications, GPS systems, and financial markets. A clock’s stability depends on the noise in its environment. A slight wind can throw a pendulum’s swing out of sync. And heat can disrupt the oscillations of atoms in an atomic clock. Eliminating such environmental effects can improve a clock’s precision. But only by so much. A new MIT study finds that even if all noise from the outside world is eliminated, the stability of clocks, laser beams, and other oscillators would still be vulnerable to quantum mechanical effects. The precision of oscillators would ultimately be limited by quantum noise. But in theory, there’s a way to push past this quantum limit. In their study, the researchers also show that by manipulating, or “squeezing,” the states that contribute to quantum noise, the stability of an oscillator could be improved, even past its quantum limit. “What we’ve shown is, there’s actually a limit to how stable oscillators like lasers and clocks can be, that’s set not just by their environment, but by the fact that quantum mechanics forces them to shake around a little bit,” says Vivishek Sudhir, assistant professor of mechanical engineering at MIT. “Then, we’ve shown that there are ways you can even get around this quantum mechanical shaking. But you have to be more clever than just isolating the thing from its environment. You have to play with the quantum states themselves.” The team is working on an experimental test of their theory. If they can demonstrate that they can manipulate the quantum states in an oscillating system, the researchers envision that clocks, lasers, and other oscillators could be tuned to super-quantum precision. These systems could then be used to track infinitesimally small differences in time, such as the fluctuations of a single qubit in a quantum computer or the presence of a dark matter particle flitting between detectors. “We plan to demonstrate several instances of lasers with quantum-enhanced timekeeping ability over the next several years,” says Hudson Loughlin, a graduate student in MIT’s Department of Physics. “We hope that our recent theoretical developments and upcoming experiments will advance our fundamental ability to keep time accurately, and enable new revolutionary technologies.” Loughlin and Sudhir detail their work in an open-access paper published in the journal Nature Communications. Laser precision In studying the stability of oscillators, the researchers looked first to the laser — an optical oscillator that produces a wave-like beam of highly synchronized photons. The invention of the laser is largely credited to physicists Arthur Schawlow and Charles Townes, who coined the name from its descriptive acronym: light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation. A laser’s design centers on a “lasing medium” — a collection of atoms, usually embedded in glass or crystals. In the earliest lasers, a flash tube surrounding the lasing medium would stimulate electrons in the atoms to jump up in energy. When the electrons relax back to lower energy, they give off some radiation in the form of a photon. Two mirrors, on either end of the lasing medium, reflect the emitted photon back into the atoms to stimulate more electrons, and produce more photons. One mirror, together with the lasing medium, acts as an “amplifier” to boost the production of photons, while the second mirror is partially transmissive and acts as a “coupler” to extract some photons out as a concentrated beam of laser light. Since the invention of the laser, Schawlow and Townes put forth a hypothesis that a laser’s stability should be limited by quantum noise. Others have since tested their hypothesis by modeling the microscopic features of a laser. Through very specific calculations, they showed that indeed, imperceptible, quantum interactions among the laser’s photons and atoms could limit the stability of their oscillations. “But this work had to do with extremely detailed, delicate calculations, such that the limit was understood, but only for a specific kind of laser,” Sudhir notes. “We wanted to enormously simplify this, to understand lasers and a wide range of oscillators." Putting the “squeeze” on Rather than focus on a laser’s physical intricacies, the team looked to simplify the problem. “When an electrical engineer thinks of making an oscillator, they take an amplifier, and they feed the output of the amplifier into its own input,” Sudhir explains. “It’s like a snake eating its own tail. It’s an extremely liberating way of thinking. You don’t need to know the nitty gritty of a laser. Instead, you have an abstract picture, not just of a laser, but of all oscillators.” In their study, the team drew up a simplified representation of a laser-like oscillator. Their model consists of an amplifier (such as a laser’s atoms), a delay line (for instance, the time it takes light to travel between a laser’s mirrors), and a coupler (such as a partially reflective mirror). The team then wrote down the equations of physics that describe the system’s behavior, and carried out calculations to see where in the system quantum noise would arise. “By abstracting this problem to a simple oscillator, we can pinpoint where quantum fluctuations come into the system, and they come in in two places: the amplifier and the coupler that allows us to get a signal out of the oscillator,” Loughlin says. “If we know those two things, we know what the quantum limit on that oscillator’s stability is.” Sudhir says scientists can use the equations they lay out in their study to calculate the quantum limit in their own oscillators. What’s more, the team showed that this quantum limit might be overcome, if quantum noise in one of the two sources could be “squeezed.” Quantum squeezing is the idea of minimizing quantum fluctuations in one aspect of a system at the expense of proportionally increasing fluctuations in another aspect. The effect is similar to squeezing air from one part of a balloon into another. In the case of a laser, the team found that if quantum fluctuations in the coupler were squeezed, it could improve the precision, or the timing of oscillations, in the outgoing laser beam, even as noise in the laser’s power would increase as a result. “When you find some quantum mechanical limit, there’s always some question of how malleable is that limit?” Sudhir says. “Is it really a hard stop, or is there still some juice you can extract by manipulating some quantum mechanics? In this case, we find that there is, which is a result that is applicable to a huge class of oscillators.” This research is supported, in part, by the National Science Foundation.

Leaked Document Says US Is Willing to Build Replacement Energy Projects in Case Dams Are Breached

In a strong sign that the U.S. will consider breaching four controversial dams on the Snake River, a leaked Biden administration document says the government is prepared to help build clean energy projects to replace the power generated by the dams

SEATTLE (AP) — The U.S. government is willing to help build enough new clean energy projects in the Pacific Northwest to replace the hydropower generated by four controversial dams on the Snake River, according to a leaked Biden administration document that is giving hope to conservationists who have long sought the removal of the dams as a key to restoring depleted salmon runs.The document is a draft agreement to uphold 168-year-old treaties with four tribes in the Pacific Northwest that preserved their right to harvest fish in the river, among other things. The Columbia River Basin was once the greatest salmon-producing river system in the world, with at least 16 stocks of salmon and steelhead, according to the document. But today, four are extinct and seven are listed under the Endangered Species Act. Conservationists say dams built in the basin are primarily to blame.Conservation groups and tribes sued the federal government in an effort to save the struggling fisheries, and both sides notified the court earlier this fall they were close to reaching an agreement that could put the the lawsuit on hold. They have until mid-December to submit an agreement.Amanda Goodin, a lawyer for the environmental group Earthjustice, which is representing a coalition of environmental, fishing, and renewable energy groups in the litigation, said their goal throughout the mediation has been to prevent the extinction of salmon, restore the ecosystem and replace the energy provided by the dams.“We hope to be able to say on Dec. 15 we’ve achieved that goal, but if we can’t reach that goal or discussions fall apart, we will be prepared to resume litigation on Dec. 15,” she said in a statement. Due to confidentiality rules, she said they would not discuss the specifics of the draft agreement.In civil cases, mediation talks are generally confidential, but Washington state Rep. Dan Newhouse, a Republican, included a link to the draft agreement in a press release Wednesday. Newhouse has long opposed breaching the dams, saying they are essential for agriculture, flood control and transportation as well as electricity."It is imperative that our constituents, whose livelihoods depend on the Columbia River System, have a comprehensive understanding of this document’s contents so they can anticipate and prepare for the wide-ranging impacts that will inevitably be felt across the region should the commitments detailed in this document be realized,” Newhouse and three other Republican representatives — Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington, Cliff Bentz of Oregon, and Russ Fulcher of Idaho — wrote to President Joe Biden.The draft agreement says the government will help plan and pay for Pacific Northwest tribes to develop enough clean energy resources to serve as replacement power for the lower Snake River dams, whether or not Congress authorizes dam removal.The draft also includes billions of dollars in funding for analyzing the region’s energy needs, improving transportation infrastructure, making the power grid more resilient and restoring salmon, steelhead and other native fish runs in the Columbia River basin. Oregon and Washington would be partners in the effort along with the four tribes and the federal government.There has been growing recognition across the U.S. that the harms some dams cause to fish outweigh their usefulness. Dams on the Elwha River in Washington state and the Klamath River along the Oregon-California border have been or are being removed.The Yakama Nation and the Nez Perce Tribe declined to comment on the document, while the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation was not immediately available for comment and Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs did not respond to a request for comment.Alyssa Roberts, spokesperson for the White House Council on Environmental Quality, said the negotiations are ongoing. “As part of the court-approved confidential mediation with Tribes, States, and other parties to develop a long-term, durable path forward, the U.S. Government is developing a package of actions and commitments that we are discussing with all parties involved in the mediation,” she said in a statement.Utility and business groups Northwest RiverPartners, the Public Power Council and the Pacific Northwest Waterways Association called the draft agreement the “greatest threat” for the region in a joint statement released Wednesday, saying dam breaching would hurt the region's ports and farmers and could raise electricity prices.“This proposal turns its back on over three million electricity customers as well as the farming, transportation, navigation, and economic needs of the region,” the groups wrote. The pros and cons of dam-breaching have been debated for years, but only a few lawmakers in the region have embraced the idea. In 2021 Republican Rep. Mike Simpson of Idaho proposed removing the earthen berms on either side of the four Lower Snake River dams to let the river flow freely, and to spend $33 billion to replace the benefits of the dams for agriculture, energy and transportation. Last year, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and Washington U.S. Sen. Patty Murray released a report saying carbon-free electricity produced by the dams must be replaced before they are breached. Eliminating the dams would also dramatically change the way farmers in Idaho and Washington and Oregon transport their crops, forcing them to rely on truck and rail transportation instead. The town of Lewiston, Idaho, is home to the most inland seaport on the West Coast, and farmers in the region rely on barges to ship their crops. There are no nearby railroads, and shipping trucks must traverse winding and sometimes treacherous river-side roads. Other lawmakers — including Idaho Rep. Mike Crapo and Sen. Jim Risch and Montana Rep. Steve Daines — have argued that the government should find other ways to save the fish.In October, Biden directed federal agencies to use all available resources to restore abundant salmon runs in the Columbia River Basin, but Biden’s memo stopped short of calling for the removal of the dams. The Lower Granite, Ice Harbor, Little Goose and Lower Monumental dams were built in the mid-1900s. On average, the four dams produce about 1,000 MW of power each year, though they can produce as much as 2,200 MW during peak energy demand, according to the non-profit NW Energy Coalition. Roughly $17 billion in infrastructure improvements, some of it forced by litigation, has done little to restore the fish to historical levels. Boone reported from Boise, Idaho.Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Proposed NewRange Copper-Nickel Mine in Minnesota Suffers Fresh Setback on Top of Years of Delays

The proposed NewRange Copper Nickel mine in northeastern Minnesota has suffered a fresh setback

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The proposed NewRange Copper Nickel mine in northeastern Minnesota suffered a fresh setback this week when an administrative law judge recommended that state regulators should not reissue a crucial permit for the long-delayed project.Administrative Law Judge James LaFave said in a ruling late Tuesday that the design for the mine's waste basin won’t adequately prevent water pollution. So, he said, the Department of Natural Resources should not reissue the main “permit to mine” for the project.The next step is up to the DNR, which can accept or reject the judge's recommendations or impose new conditions for reissuing the permit.The proposed $1 billion mine has been delayed by a string of court rulings and administrative actions since regulators issued the original permit to mine and other necessary permits in 2018 and 2019. The Minnesota Supreme Court in 2021 ordered the DNR to gather more evidence on whether the mine’s waste basin would keep pollution contained, which led to a five-day hearing before the judge in March. The project's proposed open-pit mine near Babbitt and processing plant near Hoyt Lakes is a a 50-50 joint venture between PolyMet Mining and Canada-based Teck Resources. The project was renamed NewRange Copper Nickel in February but is still widely known as PolyMet. It seeks to be Minnesota’s first copper-nickel mine, but it has long been stalled by court and regulatory setbacks. Swiss commodities giant Glencore in recent months upped its stake to become the sole owner of PolyMet Mining.“It’s time for the Governor as well as Minnesota’s state agencies to take a hard look at whether it is time to pull the plug on the PolyMet mine project.” Paula Maccabee, an attorney for the environmental group WaterLegacy, said in a statement.NewRange spokesman Bruce Richardson said Wednesday that the company was “reviewing the ruling and evaluating our options.” The company says it can produce copper, nickel and platinum-group metals needed for the clean energy economy without harming the environment while creating jobs for northeastern Minnesota.Other environmental groups also welcomed the ruling. They say the risks of acid mine drainage from the sulfide-bearing ore under northeastern Minnesota pose unacceptable risks to the environment and human health.The issue in this case was whether the bentonite clay liner that NewRange plans to use to seal its waste basin would adequately contain the reactive mine waste, known as tailings, and keep oxygen and water out. The judge concluded that it was not a “practical and workable” way to render the tailings nonreactive or to keep water out of them over time.“The crux of the issue is simple: Will the method to contain the waste work? The evidence is clear, and the judge’s ruling is clear: No," said Chris Knopf, executive director of Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness.“This is yet another repudiation of the permits issued to PolyMet, and should be the final nail in the coffin of this failed proposal,” said Kathryn Hoffman, CEO of the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy.Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

What is a 'just' transition to net zero - and why is Australia struggling to get there?

Australia’s clean energy transition cannot succeed unless the government opens debate and decision-making to many more voices.

Australia’s net-zero transition is struggling. Despite the government’s efforts, announced last week, to revive flagging investment in renewable energy, greenhouse gas emissions from existing industry are still rising. Yet under the Paris Agreement, Australia must adopt even more ambitious targets for 2035. At the same time, governments in Australia and overseas are facing rising community opposition to the rollout of clean energy infrastructure needed for a net zero transition. Such opposition is being exploited by right-wing parties for electoral gain. But that pressure only underscores what the Australian government must do. To lift its climate game, it needs a mission-oriented, whole-of-government approach, built on what is known as a “just transition”. The two main elements of a just transition A just transition requires both distributive justice and procedural justice. Distributive justice means policies that ensure a fair distribution of the economic burdens and benefits of the climate transition, along with protections for low-income people. Procedural justice includes – but goes beyond – engaging with workers directly impacted by the decline of fossil fuel production. It means going beyond engagement with stakeholders that mainly represent incumbent industries. A just transition would give all of Australia’s communities a chance to not only take part in discussions about the costs and benefits of different approaches to net zero, but also to have a say in designing climate policies that directly affect them. The success of the net zero transition may depend on the government’s willingness to use the expertise of local communities in finding solutions for the lands and waters they know best. The Labor government signed the Just Transition Declaration at last year’s COP27 global climate summit at Sharm el-Sheikh. The declaration spells out this idea in its second principle: the development of effective, nationally coherent, locally driven and delivered just transition plans within countries is dependent on effective and inclusive social dialogue. Yet the Albanese government’s net-zero strategy has no explicit commitment to a just transition. Instead, its piecemeal strategy lacks integration and avoids tackling the essential phase-out of fossil fuels. Read more: How could Australia actually get to net zero? Here's how Many government bodies – but is there a plan? In May the government announced it would establish a statutory Net Zero Authority “to ensure the workers, industries and communities that have powered Australia for generations can seize the opportunities of Australia’s net zero transformation.” The authority is expected to “help investors and companies to engage with net zero transformation opportunities,” to help regions and communities attract new investment in clean energy, and to assist workers in the transition away from emissions-intensive industries. To design the legislation to create the Net Zero Authority and to “immediately kick-start” its work, in July the government set up an interim body known as the Net Zero Economic Agency, located in the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet. The agency is chaired by former Labor climate change minister Greg Combet and supported by a ten-member advisory board. The mining industry and mining unions are well represented, holding three seats. However, many key stakeholders, including environmental and climate NGOs and the social welfare sector, are not represented. At the same time, climate minister Chris Bowen has established a Net Zero Taskforce in the Department of Climate Change, Energy, Environment and Water to advise on the 2035 emissions reduction target and the plan to reach net zero emissions by 2050. Guided by the advice of the Climate Change Authority, the taskforce will develop six sectoral decarbonisation plans in: electricity and energy industry resources the built environment agriculture and land transport. How the work of all these bodies fits together is unclear. An overarching Net Zero National Cabinet Committee, as suggested by the Grattan Institute’s Tony Wood, could provide the necessary coordination, as long as it is guided by an integrated strategy for a net zero just transition. Yet a just transition is not mentioned on government websites relating to the interim agency and the taskforce, other than to say that they will engage with communities, industry, First Nations, and unions, with an emphasis on affected workers in regions. There is no earmarked funding, institutional innovation, or capacity building to enable inclusive dialogues across communities and society. Read more: Why Australia urgently needs a climate plan and a Net Zero National Cabinet Committee to implement it Lessons in dialogue at home and overseas The Net Zero Authority is well positioned to coordinate and fund such dialogues, which are best approached from a perspective geared towards systemic change. As the Sydney Policy Lab has found in its community “listening campaign” on the climate transition in Geelong, the authority’s transition planning will lack support if it ignores the issues (such as secure housing and affordable living) communities most worry about. Read more: Australia's new dawn: becoming a green superpower with a big role in cutting global emissions Such approaches have already met with considerable success elsewhere. In Denmark, an OECD study found social dialogues have been a significant factor in the country’s successful transition to wind power. It now accounts for a major share of Denmark’s energy output. And in Sweden, the government’s Innovation Agency, Vinnova, has recently developed highly collaborative processes for redesigning energy, food and other systems to achieve net zero and other goals. Far from slowing the transition, a commitment to inclusive dialogue will secure it by building the social license for change, while ensuring some measure of accountability for the injustices of the fossil fuel era. The more inclusive the dialogue, the better the government will be able to minimise political backlash as decarbonisation accelerates. A national net zero summit To reach these outcomes will need significant coordination between federal, state and local governments, and across government departments. To jumpstart this process, and building on the success of regional summits, a national summit should be convened to explore the perspectives and initiatives of a wide range of stakeholders. That means not just unions and workers (as important as they may be) but also climate and energy NGOs, local governments and historically marginalised communities. A net zero summit would place the perspectives of policy elites and incumbent interests in dialogue with the diverse demands of citizens. It must include Indigenous communities, on whose lands much of the renewable energy infrastructure is likely to be built and critical minerals likely to be extracted. Debate at the summit cannot be perfunctory. It must provide ample space for many voices. The goal is to discover, propose and fund a net zero transition in ways that don’t unduly privilege the needs of investors and companies, but instead champion the wisdom and solutions of local communities. Read more: Beyond Juukan Gorge: how First Nations people are taking charge of clean energy projects on their land Robyn Eckersley has received research funding in the past from the Australian Research Council and she currently hold a research grant with the Research Council of Norway. Erin Fitz-Henry does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

Blue power: Will ocean waves be California’s new source of clean energy?

Only a few small demonstration projects off the West Coast have harnessed the power of waves and tides. Costs are high and hurdles are challenging.

In summary Only a few small demonstration projects off the West Coast have harnessed the power of waves and tides. Costs are high and hurdles are challenging. The world’s oceans may be vast, but they are getting crowded. Coastal areas are congested with cargo ships, international commercial fishing fleets, naval vessels, oil rigs and, soon, floating platforms for deep-sea mining. But the Pacific Ocean is going to get even busier: Nearly 600 square miles of ocean off California have been leased for floating wind farms, with more expected. Now the state is considering hosting another renewable energy technology in the sea: Blue power, electricity created from waves and tides. A new law signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom in October instructs state agencies to study the feasibility and impacts of capturing ocean movement to create power and report back to the Legislature by January 2025.  The goal is to jumpstart an industry that could fill in the power gaps as California tries to achieve its goal of transitioning to an all-renewable electric grid by 2045. But for all the interest in renewable energy — and the government subsidies — public investment in ocean energy has lagged. And the technology that would make the projects more efficient, cost effective and able to withstand a punishing sea environment is still under development.  So far, a handful of small demonstration projects have been launched off the West Coast, although none has produced commercial power for the grid. Through 2045, the California Energy Commission’s new projections for future power do not include any wave and tidal power. Yet energy experts say there is great potential along the Pacific coast. “Of all the energies out there, marine energy has been the slowest to develop. We are kind of where land-based wind was 20 or 30 years ago,” said Tim Ramsey, marine energy program manager at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Water Power Technologies Office. Energy from waves and tides is generated by an action that the ocean almost always provides — movement. Although wave and tidal devices take different forms, most capture the ocean’s kinetic motion as seawater flows through cylinders or when floating devices move up and down or sideways. In some cases, that movement creates hydraulic pressure that spins a turbine or generator. As with all developing energy technologies, Ramsey said, the cost to produce wave and tidal power is expected to be quite high in the early years. Although there have been advances in technology, getting ocean-based projects from the pilot stage to providing commercial power to the grid is the next hurdle for the industry — and it’s a substantial one. “It’s very expensive right now, and really hard to do. Working out in the water is very complex, in some cases in the harshest places on Earth…Then being able to build something that can last 20 to 30 years. We’ve made progress, but we’re a decade away,” Ramsey said. “Of all the energies out there, marine energy has been the slowest to develop. We are kind of where land-based wind was 20 or 30 years ago.”Tim Ramsey, U.S. Department of Energy’s Water Power Technologies Office State Sen. Steve Padilla, a Democrat from Chula Vista and the author of the wave energy bill, said ocean power has “great potential” but it has been agonizingly slow. “Folks have been busy focusing on other things,” he said, citing the state’s current push for floating offshore wind development. “There has been a combination of a lack of knowledge and awareness of the infrastructure and impacts. We know the state’s energy portfolio has to be as broad as possible.”  A spokesperson for the California Energy Commission, which is taking the lead on the new state study, declined to comment about waves power, saying its work has not yet begun. Learn more about legislators mentioned in this story D Steve Padilla State Senate, District 18 (Chula Vista) Expand for more about this legislator D Steve Padilla State Senate, District 18 (Chula Vista) Time in office 2022—present Background Chula Vista Councilmember / Commissioner Contact Email Legislator District 18 Demographics Voter Registration Dem 47% GOP 21% No party 25% Campaign Contributions Sen. Steve Padilla has taken at least $234,000 from the Labor sector since he was elected to the legislature. That represents 22% of his total campaign contributions. The potential is enticing: The National Renewable Energy Laboratory estimated that the total wave and tide energy resources that are available in the U.S. with current technology are equivalent to 57% of 2019’s domestic energy production. While the report noted that the technologies are in early stages of development, “even if only a small portion of the technical resource potential is captured, marine energy technologies would make significant contributions to our nation’s energy needs.”  The U.S. Department of Energy’s “Powering the Blue Economy” initiative, among others, provides grants and sponsors competitions to explore new and better technology. The fiscal year 2023 federal budget for ocean waves energy is $123 million, Ramsey said.  One program is funding research led by national labs, including designs to improve wave-driven turbines and building better motor drives for wave-energy converters.  Motion in the ocean The idea of harnessing wave power has been kicking around California for decades. So has the state policy of ordering research into its potential: A 2008 study prepared for the  Energy Commission and the Ocean Protection Council concluded that much more research was needed to better assess the potential impacts of wave and tidal energy.  At the time that study was released, one of the technology’s most ardent proponents was a young politician named Gavin Newsom. While mayor of San Francisco in 2007, Newsom proposed a tidal energy project near the Golden Gate Bridge. That idea was scrapped because it was prohibitively expensive. Not long after, as lieutenant governor, Newsom backed a pilot wave energy project he hoped would be up and running by 2012 or 2013. It wasn’t. But the dream has not died. California is already hosting wave energy projects, including one being assembled at AltaSea, a public-private research center that supports marine scientists focusing on the so-called Blue Economy. It operates out of a 35-acre campus at the Port of Los Angeles. Its CEO is Terry Tamminen, a former California environmental secretary, who had a hand in writing the new wave and tidal energy law. Tamminen said wave energy has been ignored by some state and federal officials in the face of “irrational exuberance” for offshore wind. He said the smaller, cheaper wave energy development would help the state meet its clean energy goal and could produce power well before massive floating offshore wind projects. “These machines can only be developed toward commercial viability by putting them in the water and assessing their performance. .. It’s a long slog to build and deploy and make money.”Jason Busch, Pacific Ocean Energy Trust One of AltaSea’s tenants, Eco Wave Power, is designed to deploy near shore, in breakwaters and jetties that roil with moving water. Its floating, paddle-like arms bob up and down in waves, triggering hydraulic pistons that power a motor. Tamminen said the system is “ready to deploy. Within two years we could have a commercial installation of Eco Wave technology.” The demonstration project will be installed at a wharf in L.A.’s harbor and will not generate any significant power, he said. California is not likely to see much electricity from tidal energy, said Jason Busch, executive director of Pacific Ocean Energy Trust, an Oregon-based nonprofit fostering research into marine energy. He said the state of Washington is more conducive to this new energy, for example,  because it has deep bays and estuaries for funneling water through turbine equipment. “A little bit of homework would have told you there isn’t much of a tidal opportunity in California,” he said. A small number of companies are preparing to launch pilot wave projects in other states. The Navy operates a wave energy test site in Hawaii; three developers are preparing to launch new projects in the water there.  PacWave, which operates two test sites off Newport, Oregon, is another demonstration project. A California-based company, CalWave, which concluded a 10-month demonstration off the Scripps Institute of Oceanography’s research pier in San Diego, will deploy its wave energy devices in a grid-connected, pre-permitted open-water test. The demonstration at the Oregon site is scheduled to begin next year. This type of wave-energy device is moored in the open ocean, where it is submerged. Units like this from CalWave will be used in a project off the coast of Oregon that will provide power to the grid. Photo courtesy of CalWave Much is riding on the success of the project, which took 11 years to acquire permits. Some testing has been conducted with small-scale versions of the final device, but not in harsh open water conditions and with no expectation of supplying power to the grid. “It’s the first-of-its-kind full-scale deployment. Not in ‘nursery’ conditions. It’s the real world, off you go,” said Bryson Robertson, director of the Pacific Marine Energy Center at Oregon State University, which is constructing the two testing sites. “We want to prove that we can deliver power.” Robertson, an engineer who studies wave dynamics, said one of the technologies being tested places large, buoyant squares in the water just below the surface, attached by lines to the sea floor. Kinetic energy is created as the floats bob and pitch with the action of the waves. Some companies’ technology sits atop the waves and others are fully submerged. Another is deployed on the surface and moves like a snake, with each segment creating energy from its movement. Each bespoke device is expensive, and some of the one-of-a-kind devices can cost $10 million to design and build. The industry “hasn’t narrowed in on a winning archetype,” Ramsey said. Some smaller designs can be picked up and thrown off a boat, he said, while others are large enough to need a boat to tow them into position. “It’s the first-of-its-kind full-scale deployment…We want to prove that we can deliver power.”Bryson Robertson, Pacific Marine Energy Center at Oregon State University To Busch, it’s a critical moment for ocean energy, with small companies requiring years to raise enough funding to continue testing. And with attention on the industry, they cannot afford to stumble. “Early companies that got full-scale machines in the water committed the mortal sin of overpromising and under-delivering to shareholders. One by one they went into bankruptcy,” he said.  “This is the second generation. These machines can only be developed toward commercial viability by putting them in the water and assessing their performance. That process is very long. Companies receive only limited private capital. The venture capital model does not fit marine energy. It’s a long slog to build and deploy and make money.” In the near future, wave and tidal energy may not provide huge amounts of power in  the clean-energy mosaic that will form the grid, but the technology may prove to be one of the most versatile. Experts say marine power doesn’t have to be transported to shore to be useful — it could charge oceangoing vessels, research devices, navigation equipment and aquaculture operations. Closer to shore, modest wave-powered projects could support small, remote so-called “extension cord communities” at the end of the power supply. Federal researchers also foresee ocean power being used for desalination plants.  Wave-powered generators and other renewables are already supplying all of the needs of the Orkney Islands in Scotland, with the surplus energy used to create hydrogen to run ferries to the mainland.  Lots of unknowns New technology often comes cloaked in questions: How will the wave devices impact marine animals, shipping and other ocean users? What about transmission lines and possible floating power stations? “Blue energy synergy’ is a future possibility, with wave projects sited alongside floating offshore wind projects, allowing the power producers to share transmission lines and other infrastructure.  The state report due next year is meant to answer those questions and more.  “We still don’t fully understand all of the interactions of the device in the marine environment,” Ramsey said. “Until you can put devices in the water and get long-term data collection, we don’t know. We do try to extrapolate from other industries and activities in the ocean — oil and gas, offshore wind — but that only gets you so far. “I think the potential is so enormous. If we can figure out how to do it cost-effectively, I know it will get solved. I hope the U.S. is at the forefront of solving that. If we lose a big industry to overseas, that is a lost opportunity.”

Suggested Viewing

Join us to forge
a sustainable future

Our team is always growing.
Become a partner, volunteer, sponsor, or intern today.
Let us know how you would like to get involved!


sign up for our mailing list to stay informed on the latest films and environmental headlines.

Subscribers receive a free day pass for streaming Cinema Verde.
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.