In December 2016, the Energy Department announced up to $40 million in funding for the construction of the Pacific Marine Energy Center South Energy Test Site (PMEC-SETS). In anticipation of this state-of-the-art wave energy test facility becoming operational around 2022, the Water Power Technologies Office (WPTO) is engaging in a series of discussions with various stakeholders involved in the PMEC-SETS project and the marine energy industry as a whole. The following article summarizes two of those discussions. Recently, Miles Hall, WPTO’s Stakeholder Engagement Specialist, sat down with Elaine Buck and Gareth Davies to get their expert perspectives on the state of PMEC-SETS and the Oregon coast economy, as well as the global marine energy industry.
Elaine Buck serves as a Technical Manager at the European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC) in Scotland. She directs the project team responsible for wave and tidal research and development (R&D). At EMEC, she has delivered on key European-funded projects, working alongside developers to support their technology development programs.
Gareth Davies has worked as an environmental consultant for more than 20 years. Since founding environmental consulting firm Aquatera Ltd. in 2000, Gareth has been deeply involved in the development of the marine renewables industry in Scotland. In addition to leading and participating in many of the 100 studies that Aquatera has completed in this sector, he is an active member on the board of the Scottish Renewables Forum where he co-chairs the Marine Group, participates in the Marine Grid Group, and chairs the board of the Orkney Renewables Forum. He is also currently a member of the Marine Energy Group established by the Scottish government.
What alternate markets do you think could have the largest impact on the wave energy industry?
Elaine: Attending the Energy Department’s Distributed and Alternate Applications Forum has brought to light some very interesting ideas surrounding alternate markets. EMEC has significant experience in engaging in these alternative opportunity areas because we are situated on an island. We generate 100% of our electricity from renewables, many of which could be considered alternative markets for marine and hydrokinetic (MHK) energy. Using marine energy to produce hydrogen, for example, comes with a myriad of applications such as powering ferries to get to and from the mainland. As a step further, we are also analyzing uses for byproducts from hydrogen production and use, like oxygen—which can be very useful in aquaculture projects—and heat, which can dramatically increase the productivity of polytunnels so that we can produce our own food year-round.
Do you think PMEC-SETS could mirror EMEC’s utilization of alternate market applications?
Elaine: Absolutely. Community involvement is so vital for this. It was the community in Orkney, Scotland, that communicated the need for additional heat resources to us. PMEC-SETS must look up and down the Pacific coast to see where these markets might be. Recently, the facility held meetings with Native American representatives from Washington state who live off of the grid and wanted to know how they could get involved on smaller scales with wind, wave, and tidal at PMEC-SETS.
Gareth: There are many communities with high electricity prices, so there is an opportunity for analyzing what those markets are, characterizing them, and identifying specific market price points, scale of demand, and whether the market aligns with the resources. If PMEC-SETS can show it is a gateway to various markets, there could be many positive implications for sustained development at the site and in the community. The more you can connect these markets the better.
Elaine: There is also a market for MHK to enhance resiliency and disaster-relief systems through powering generators used during recovery from severe weather events. If we can have an array of devices that are reliable and that can be used for disaster relief, it could be potentially very impactful. You never know where the next market might be for MHK technologies.
How would you characterize the global wave energy industry?
Elaine: From a European perspective, there is a noticeable change regarding how people think of marine and hydrokinetic (MHK) relative to other renewable energies. A lot of attention is now given toward entire energy systems and the process for integrating different renewable energy sources, with MHK making up a portion of the whole.
Globally, we see that developer actions are economically driven. In our experiences, a developer’s financial situations can be a major driver in the decision to focus more heavily on smaller prototypes. The process often begins with rigorous onshore demonstration testing prior to scaling up and putting steel in the water. Continuously advancing what can be technically accomplished at smaller and more affordable prototype levels is an area of increased global emphasis.
Gareth: If you have to go to massive scales, especially if you’re testing at sea, unanticipated expenses can rise very quickly unless you have an exceedingly reliable design. In addition to providing a premier, in-water testing platform, PMEC-SETS can contribute significantly to the onshore reliability testing process, especially with respect to staging and testing of the subsystems prior to when any full-scale WEC comes onto the site.
How would you describe the potential growth of MHK as well as renewable energy systems in countries outside of the UK and in the developing world?
Gareth: More people around the globe are investing in renewable energy than ever before. In the developing world, energy use in many countries is showing explosive growth due to a range of factors such as increases in population. Their respective energy needs relative to their geography and growing demand levels are very different from ours. Geography in the developed world typically sustains grid connections to most communities with supply lines to the majority of businesses—this is often not the case in developing countries. In India, for example, there are many communities and businesses that are isolated from fundamental, grid-connected energy systems. This situation highlights an opportunity for developers to provide renewable energy solutions for powering remote communities and applications where energy is either expensive or inconsistently available. We have also seen potential for MHK applications within several markets in Africa, especially for wave, tidal, and river current technologies.
How has the European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC) and Aquaterra adapted to meet any particular needs within communities in the developing world?
Gareth: We are starting to position ourselves as a project-development agent by conducting formal analyses geared toward current and future energy needs of communities. With that information, we can then work with technology developers to supply their technology in the most impactful and efficient way for the community. The idea is to create renewable energy technologies that are suitable and adaptable for each particular market, rather than creating technologies and then trying to apply them to the market. Recently, we have been looking at hybrid mixes of the renewable market so that we can provide integrated energy system solutions.
The Pacific Marine Energy Center South Energy Test Site (PMEC-SETS) is being designed and constructed by Oregon State University, and is being co-funded by the U.S. Department of Energy. When completed, PMEC-SETS will be a utility-scale, grid-connected, open-ocean test facility located off the coast of Newport, Oregon. The site will be able to accommodate up to 20 wave energy converters (WECs) across four test berths at any one time. Each of the four test berths will have a dedicated transmission cable and the site will be pre-permitted for known WEC technologies. PMEC-SETS will enable technology developers to prove device performance in robust wave environments for extended periods of time, thereby demonstrating technical viability, determining methods for cost reduction, and advancing technologies toward commercial readiness and cost-effective power delivery.