US DoE eyes support for ocean energy

Sixteen million dollars is a pittance in the larger energy scheme, but for wave and new tidal technologies in their infancy, every little bit of help is surely appreciated.

Seventeen projects will get a piece of the new funding pie served up this week by the U.S. Department of Energy [PDF]. Two things jump out about this round of funding. First, the focus was definitely on power take-off systems, the components in marine energy devices that convert mechanical energy into electricity. And second, Ocean Renewable Power Company of Portland, Maine – which in the past year achieved a U.S. first by pumping energy onto the grid using a tidal power device – emerged as a clear winner.

image via Ocean Renewable Power Company

ORPC won a $3 million grant to use on a $4.5 million project “to develop and test components – including bearings, couplings and a subsea electrical generation – for an advanced power takeoff system.” The company also nabbed $1.93 million for a $2.4 million project aimed at developing technology that will read tidal conditions and adjust its TidGen System to optimize performance.  That gave ORPC nearly a third of the total funding handed out here.

“We’ve proven the technology, but this federal investment will give us the boost we need to take it to the next level,” Chris Sauer, president of Ocean Renewable Power Co., said in a statement reported in the Bangor Daily News. “And it’s going to mean more jobs and investment in Maine.”

Other familiar names were winners, too, in this round of competitive funding.Columbia Power Technologies, which earlier this week said it had selected Siemens Industry to design a rotary generator for use in its StingRAY wave energy device, got a $3 million grant for the development of its own take-off module; andOcean Power Technologies got $1 million to help make the float and spar on its PowerBuoy wave energy converter stronger but lighter at the same time, which could “reduce the cost of energy and significantly improve the device’s power-to-weight ratio,” the DOE said.

Not all of the grants were focused on the manufacturing side, however. Nine grants, totaling nearly $2.4 million, went to research of one sort or another into the impact on the marine environment of wave and tidal energy development. For instance, Oregon State University received $150,000 (toward a project budget of $188,000) to “measure changes in sound levels from the installation and operation of a wave energy converter in the coastal ocean, including comparison with other natural and man‐made sources near the project site .”

* Pete Danko, EarthTechling