Feds dangle $12M for wave energy development, and Oregon is interested

View Original at Portland Business Journal

By Pete Danko

December 27, 2016

Oregon was tapped last week for a grid-connected wave energy test center, but what about projects to fill the facility?

For a cash-poor industry, development and deployment can be tough to pull off, but the feds are doing what they can to feed a pipeline.

The U.S. Department of Energy this month announced it will make up to $12 million available to back development and open-water testing of wave energy converters “that show high potential to succeed commercially in large utility-scale markets and compete with other forms of energy generation in the longer term.”

That could mean more funding coming to Oregon, long a target for federal wave money.

A DOE report on marine and hydrokinetics funding for the 2008 through 2015 fiscal years showed $33.1 million in funding going to projects based wholly or largely in Oregon. That was about a quarter of all the funding distributed to the broader wave and tidal energy industries.

The state added to that total recently when Portland-based AquaHarmonics won the DOE’s Wave Energy Prize, taking home $1.5 million. M3 Wave of Salem also received development funds during that competition, and late last year the company won a separate $600,000 DOE grant.

Corvallis-based Columbia Power Technologies has also been the recipient of recent DOE funding.

When AquaHarmonics won the Wave Energy Prize in November, this new round of DOE funding hadn’t quite been finalized, but the company was already eying it as a possible avenue for advancing their technology.

“Doing something around a quarter-scale could be a great next step for us,” said AquaHarmonics’ Alex Hagmuller.

That’s right about the size the DOE is envisioning with this funding round. In the competition, AquaHarmonics developed a 1/50th-scale model to qualify for the finals, then a 1/20th-scale model in the finals.

The dream scenario for Oregon wave energy would be for one of its local companies to snag a deployment award, and then see that deployment happen off the Oregon coast. But the Newport test center, which will offer the unique possibility of testing arrays of devices, will certainly interest outside developers.

The DOE said it expects to make two awards, up to $5 million apiece, for deployments. The grants would require the recipients to match 20 percent of the money with non-DOE funds.

The DOE anticipates the recipients spending up to 18 months on a design phase, then two years on a deployment phase. That’s timing that could work out well for the Oregon test center, which expects to be operating by 2020.