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June 1, 2014
By Tom Banse
An engineering company based in Salem, Oregon, says it is close to deploying the first submerged wave power generator on the West Coast.M3 Wave Energy Systems plans a temporary deployment late this summer in shallow water off the northern Oregon Coast.
The concept here relies on wave pressure passing over acrylic pillows on the sea floor. That pressure compresses air in the pillows, which is then used to spin an electric turbine.
Mike Morrow, M3 Wave’s CEO, said the initial open water deployment will be a self-contained, 7’ x 30’ rectangle on the seafloor off of Camp Rilea near Astoria.
“It is smaller scale so it is not going to generate a huge amount of power,” he said. “It would be enough to power a small sensor array or marker beacon.”
The demonstration is planned to last two to six weeks starting this August or September. Longer term, Morrow foresees manufacturing larger devices in Oregon. The devices would probably be exported to power off-the-grid outposts or coastal communities with high electricity costs such as Pacific islands or in Alaska.
Morrow said government grants and private investors are financing the commercialization of this technology.
The steady, powerful pounding of the ocean surf along with supportive state governments attracted a plethora of energy developers to the Pacific Northwest over the past decade. But one-by-one, project developers have thrown in the towel as their funding ran low or West Coast utilities proved unwilling to commit to this type of renewable electricity at above-market rates.
M3 Wave has managed to survive the shakeout in the ocean renewable energy sector.
“One of the key things about M3 and our technology is that it does fit on the [sea] bottom. We took a very different philosophy,” Morrow explained. “There’s less energy on the bottom available — that’s just simple laws of physics — but we think it will be easier and more cost effective to harness that energy.”
Earlier this spring, New Jersey-based Ocean Power Technologiescancelled its plans to deploy an array of ten wave-energy buoys, which would have floated on the ocean surface near Reedsport, Oregon. A Scottish wave-energy developer, Aquamarine Power, closed its Oregon office in 2011 citing uncertainty about seabed leases.
One of the other survivors in the ocean energy space regionally is Seattle-based Principle Power. It recently won a federal grant to test wind-energy generation using turbines placed atop redesigned offshore drilling platforms. Principle Power is currently seeking permission to deploy such floating windmills offshore of Coos Bay, Oregon.