Hawaii’s renewable energy mix is exponentially expanding, as detailed in Nathan Eagle’s article “Will Hawaii Lead the Renewables Revolution?” This truly is a “dawning of a new day,” and Hawaii is leading the nation into a fossil-free future.

Although only briefly mentioned in this recent Civil Beat report, much more must be said about wave energy, a renewable source which has the potential to power the world more than twice over.

Realistically, it is generally believed that wave energy will provide about 10% of the world’s energy generation. Incredibly, our waves can generate enough power to meet 100% of all the neighbor islands’ electricity needs and 80% of Oahu’s.

Ranked scientifically as the world’s No. 2 spot for wave climate – the average condition of waves including height and direction at a place over a period of years – Hawaii possesses the natural resources and conditions that other countries wish they had. It positions us as a potential leader in sustainability.

Wave energy is more predictable, reliable, and consistent than the other main renewable sources such as wind and solar. For this reason, wave energy is often considered to be complementary base load, due to its long timescales of variation.

Where wind and solar fluctuate rapidly (for example, solar drops precipitously from maximum to zero generation when a cloud obscures the sun), wave energy varies slowly enough that traditional fossil fuel generation (e.g., a coal fired generator) can adjust in time to ensure a constant overall supply of power. This is an important advantage that wave energy has over wind and solar.

Energy source: Waves crashing during high tide at Spitting Cave Cliff,  2018. Anthony Quintano/Civil Beat

As you’re probably aware, the Navy Base on Oahu is home to Wave Energy Test Site. Having tested various technologies already, the WETS will soon be home to an Irish-based technology, constructed in Oregon. Results should be available in 2020.

At a more commercial stage, however, is the Australian technology of Wave Swell Energy. The U.S. Department of Energy’s marine renewables publication, Tethys, recently featured an article about the WSE technology. With the first commercial demonstration of WSE’s simple oscillating water column technology (no moving parts in the water) due to be operating off Tasmanian waters early in 2020, the company has expressed solid interest in bringing the technology to Hawaii.

“The Navy Base on Oahu is home to Wave Energy Test Site.”

In fact, WSE is in discussion with Scott Seu from HECO as to how best to facilitate a Hawaiian project. A successful first Hawaiian project would, naturally, see further units deployed. While there is still work to be done before such a project will be operating in local waters, the signs are very positive.

As climate changes and sea level rises we may be facing devastating challenges to energy producing infrastructure. Researchers and industry leaders are working to use wave energy to help restore power after natural or other disasters, such as hurricanes. This is particularly prudent noting the devastation in Puerto Rico, and more recently the Bahamas, from monster hurricanes.

Professor Umesh Korde from Johns Hopkins University suggests that fleets of wave energy convergent machines could be deployed as needed based on the track of a storm. Researchers need to still develop a means to get the energy to shore, however Professor Korde says that it would take a device smaller than a car, working two to three hours to provide energy for one home for one day.

He added that if you have 50 to 100 of them in the ocean, power for 4,000 homes could be provided for five days.

Seeking Balance

It has been said that wave energy is 15 to 20 years behind wind energy in development. Where there is a need there will be a way, and we need to balance our renewable energy sources better.

State Rep. Gil Riviere has said that the wind mills on the North Shore are the smoke stacks of old. Many agree. Ocean waves, rather than wind, may be a better answer to our state’s commitment to becoming 100% fossil-fuel free.

Our military neighbors at Marine Corps Base Hawaii have committed to pursuing wave energy. It is now time for our public utilities to follow suit. Wave energy needs to be seriously considered in Hawaii’s commitment to clean energy and to being fossil-fuel free by 2045.

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