The U.S. Navy has awarded the University of Hawaii $9 million to support its research on wave energy conversion devices in Kaneohe Bay off of the Marine Corps Base.

The funds are earmarked for the university’s controversial Navy-sponsored “Applied Research Laboratory” in conjunction with UH Manoa’s Natural Energy Institute.

The Kaneohe site is slated to be the first wave energy test site in the U.S. connected to an active power grid. According to a university press release, little research has been conducted on wave energy despite its abundance in Hawaii and other parts of the country. The Kaneohe Bay site is intended to provide developers a cost-effective way to test their designs.

Azura wave energy testing device

A wave energy conversion device known as Azura, which will be deployed at the Kaneohe site in the fall of 2014. The device, which was developed by Northwest Energy Innovations, is shown here undergoing preliminary testing off of the Oregon coast.

Courtesy of Northwest Energy Solutions

The project is aimed at both expanding ongoing research at the testing site and helping the Navy reach its goal of producing 50 percent of its shore-based energy from renewable sources by 2020.

“In Hawaii, our diverse renewable energy resources, large defense presence, and current grid challenges offer a tremendous opportunity to apply UH’s unique research capabilities and experience to help the Navy solve their energy challenges,” said Michael Vitale, the UH lab’s executive director, in a statement. “Wave energy is but one of a growing list of opportunities for future energy research.”

The Applied Research Laboratory was the target of student- and faculty-led protests back when plans to establish it first surfaced in 2003. Criticisms centered on the university’s relationship with the military and the prospect of classified research.

Other than the work on wave energy, the university has disclosed few details about the research that has been conducted under the auspices of the Navy lab, which was established in 2008 and renewed a year ago.

According to the university, the Navy started testing wave energy devices in Kaneohe Bay several years ago. The new funds are aimed at supporting additional underwater surveys, addressing maintenance issues and configuring an on-site platform off of which submarines can launch for rapid-response needs.

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