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At the Port of LA, a new project will harness energy from ocean waves

Eco Wave Power is one of a small group of startups racing to prove that the ocean can help meet renewable energy goals. BY ADELE PETERS

At the Port of Los Angeles, inside a massive warehouse that now incubates ocean-related research and innovation, a shipping container filled with energy technology will soon be installed on a jetty next to the water. The equipment will connect to floating devices that capture energy as waves move up and down—a system that theoretically could cover as much as 69% of the state’s electricity production if it was scaled up.

[Photo: Eco Wave]

It’s the first U.S. installation for Eco Wave Power, a company that already has a wave energy station connected to the grid in Israel. Like other startups working in the space, the company thinks that wave technology can help fill a gap in renewable energy. “Wave power is our least intermittent and most stable source of electricity,” says CEO Inna Braverman. Unlike solar and wind power, it can keep running continuously as it makes use of the ocean’s movement.

The Energy Information Administration estimates that wave energy could supply nearly two-thirds of electricity generation in the U.S. (Right now, only around 20% of electricity in the country comes from renewable sources—a significant number, since renewables hit the milestone of surpassing coal last year, but still far from what’s needed to meet climate goals.) Wave energy “is a huge, clean, renewable energy resource that no one’s harnessing,” Braverman says.

The fledging wave power industry is far behind solar and wind. Some early startups failed, like Pelamis, a company that built a wave energy farm off the coast of Portugal in 2008, but had to tow its first generators back to shore months later after technical problems; ultimately, the farm shut down, followed by two other failed installations before the company folded. But Eco Wave Power, which has been developing its technology since 2011, thinks it can avoid some of the challenges others have faced by taking a different approach.

A planned installation in Portugal [Rendering: Eco Wave]

Rather than installing equipment in the ocean—an expensive process involving ships, divers, mooring, and underwater cables—the company keeps most of its system on land, and attaches floating devices to existing structures like piers, breakwaters, and jetties.

The floaters, which Braverman says “look like little boats,” go up and down with the waves, compressing and decompressing hydraulic cylinders, creating pressure that rotates a motor and then a generator. “The higher the wave, the higher the pressure,” she says. An inverter then transfers the electricity into the grid.

Gibraltar [Photo: Eco Wave]

Because of the density of wave energy, the technology has a relatively small footprint, generating around 50 times more power than solar panels would in the same area. On a breakwater that’s a kilometer long (six tenths of a mile), for example, it’s possible to produce between three and five megawatts of electricity at any given time, enough to power between 3,000 and 5,000 households. The pilot in LA will be around 85 feet long, enough to generate 100 megawatts. “Most breakwaters are much larger,” says Braverman. The Port of LA’s extra long breakwater could potentially generate power for as many as 60,000 households.

The tech can already compete in cost with wind energy, and because it can work around the clock, can achieve a return on investment faster than solar, Braverman says. The modular design can be installed quickly. Still, there are challenges. Most governments don’t yet have permitting systems set up for wave power. “It takes us as little as six months to install a pilot station, but as long as two years to get the licensing in place,” she says. “So it’s very important that we close the gap between the technology readiness level and the policies and regulation.” Ocean energy tech also currently relies on equity financing, unlike wind and solar, which can use less expensive debt financing. Braverman is optimistic that can change, saying that solar and wind power went through the same challenges.

Braverman took an unusual path to entrepreneurship. Born in Ukraine in 1986, two weeks after the Chernobyl disaster, she was affected by the radiation and temporarily stopped breathing as an infant. After her mother, a nurse, revived her, Braverman grew up thinking that because she’d been given a second chance at life, she should contribute something good to the world.

After college, she began working at a renewable energy company and thinking about the potential for wave energy to add to wind and solar. “I started obsessively researching why other companies had failed,” she said. She didn’t have the resources to start a company until a chance meeting with a serial entrepreneur who believed in her vision.

It’s not clear yet how much the company will ultimately scale up—or what will be the future of others in the space, like CalWave, which recently successfully completed a pilot off California’s coast. As batteries have fallen in cost, they can also help fill gaps when the wind isn’t blowing and the sun isn’t shining. But to have a chance of meeting climate goals, it makes sense to pursue every renewable energy resource that shows potential, and new funding is flowing into the field. PacWave, a project off the Oregon Coast that’s testing eight different technologies and plans to connect to the grid by 2024, got a $25 million grant from the Department of Energy last year. Another large project in testing in Hawaii also got DOE support. In Europe, where hundreds of millions have been invested in ocean energy, the EU has a target of deploying 100 megawatts of wave and tidal capacity by 2025.

SOURCE: FastCompany -

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