First wave power farm in U.S. to be built in Oregon

Summary:Can sea swells power our homes? Construction on the first commercial wave-energy farm in the United States has begun off the coastline of Oregon.

Construction on the first commercial wave-energy farm in the United States has begun off the coastline of Oregon.

The farm, which draws its power from the energy of ocean surface waves, is expected to power about 400 homes, according to a report in USA Today.

New Jersey-based developer Ocean Power Technologies is spearheading the $60 million project, which is located at a site in Reedsport, Ore.

Here's how it works: As a float on a buoy rises and falls with the waves, it drives a plunger up and down, which is connected to a hydraulic pump that converts the vertical movement into rotary motion that drives an electrical generator.

Once electricity is produced, it's sent to shore via a submerged cable.

A total of 10 buoys are planned for deployment by 2012. The first buoy will measure 150 feet tall by 40 feet wide, weigh 200 tons and cost $4 million.

While some people are skeptical of putting waves to work in a cost-effective manner, the concept makes sense. After all, why not take advantage of water that's already moving?

(One suggestion: whether we ought to take advantage of the wind that's causing them instead.)

But the real problem is that waves are awfully unpredictable, and vary widely in height and strength. Too-large waves can damage equipment, but too-small waves aren't cost-effective for power generation.

Not to mention the environmental and economic concerns with creating "off-limits" areas of the ocean miles from the shore.

The world's first commercial wave farm, the Aguçadoura Wave Farm, opened in 2008 in Portugal, but ran into dire financial straits and was suspended indefinitely (.pdf).

Hopefully, Ocean Power won't run into such problems -- another one of its projects is for the U.S. Marine Corps base in Hawaii.

Here's a great broadcast report on the wave power effort:

Related: CBS 3 Philadelphia: The benefits of Ocean Power Technology

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

Topics: Innovation

About

Andrew Nusca is a former writer-editor for ZDNet and contributor to CNET. He is also the former editor of SmartPlanet, ZDNet's sister site about innovation. He writes about business, technology and design now but used to cover finance, fashion and culture. He was an intern at Money, Men's Vogue, Popular Mechanics and the New York Daily Ne... Full Bio

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