US government gets serious about wave energy

Could this be what wave energy needs? The U.S. Department of Energy is planning to hold a competition for a “National Wave Energy Converter Prize.” What shape the contest will take remains undecided, and it’s even possible the idea could be abandoned.

The PowerBuoy, one of a number of seemingly stalled devices (image via Ocean Power Technologies)

But if it happens, as seems likely, it could help invigorate and focus a nascent energy sector that hasplenty of small players with interesting ideas, but all of whom have struggled to move beyond the prototype or even idea stage.

The DOE introduced the National Wave Energy Converter Prize idea last July, and has been receiving input on how to shape the competition. That stated broad goal “is to spur innovations for new and next generation WEC technologies at a levelized cost of energy (LCOE) of 15 cents per kilowatt hour compared to the current range of 61-77 ¢/kWh.”

Now the DOE is exploring a cooperative agreement to administer the prize. The department’s recentrequest for information lays out more information about the intent and possible design of the challenge. From the RFI:

The wave energy industry is young and experiencing many new innovations as evidenced by a sustained growth in patent activity, with the numbers of patent application files doubling each year since 2008. While the private industry can develop these early conception wave energy converter (WEC) devices through design and benchtop prototype testing, funding is hard to secure for performance testing and evaluation of WEC devices in wave tanks at a meaningful scale. This is a problem for the industry since scaled WEC prototype tank testing, validation, and evaluation is a key step in the advancement of WEC technologies through higher technical readiness levels to reach commercialization.

The hope, then, is this:

A prize competition will rapidly advance WEC technology by not only incentivizing development with a prize, but also by providing an opportunity for tank testing and evaluation for scaled WEC prototypes to attract new ideas from new developers and next generation ideas from existing developers.

The DOE said it intends to issue a funding opportunity announcement for a prize administrator in 2014. Stay tuned, wave people.

* Pete Danko, EarthTechling