Oregon Takes Wave Power to the Next Level

The Ocean Sentinel, a platform for testing wave-energy harvesters, bobs off the coast of Newport, Oregon.

Last week found me in Oregon, hanging out with inventors and entrepreneurs who are focused on one goal: Turning the massive waves of the Pacific Ocean into a reliable and clean form of electricity.

You don’t hear much about the wave power industry, compared to other alternative energies like solar or wind, because it is just now emerging from its wild-eyed-inventor stage and starting to wear a suit. Or, better yet, a spiffy looking North Face jacket (this is Oregon, after all).

I came away with two insights. First, the machines that actually create wave power are a freakish menagerie of steel and fiberglass, with new specimens arriving all the time. One paragraph from a post for Forbes entitled “What the Future of Wave Energy Looks Like“:

While the wind industry has, for the time being, agreed on the design of wind turbines (tall, white, three blades) and the solar industry knows what a solar panel looks like (flat, black, rectangular), the endeavor of turning ocean energy into usable electricity is experiencing a Wild West of innovation.

For a proper rundown of the kind of wave devices that are competing to deliver electricity to your power outlet, check out this column I wrote for Sierra magazine, or this beguiling set of animations.

Second, I discovered how earnestly and diligently Oregon is working to make itself the hub of this promising new industry. And promising it is. From a second Forbes post, entitled “Oregon Races to Catch Up to Europe in Wave Energy“:

The foundations for a new heavy marine industry are being laid in Oregon, where the prospect of turning the powerful waves of the Pacific Ocean into electricity is starting to be recognized as a multimillion-dollar, economy-building enterprise.

At a wave-energy conference last week in Portland, signs were evident that Oregon’s government, universities and private sector are coalescing around a long-term plan to use the state’s punishing ocean swells to create megawatts of power, in the process gaining an advantage over other hopefuls like Hawaii and California and laying the groundwork for a wave-industrial complex that could pose serious competition to Europe, which overwhelmingly dominates the field.

At the end of the week, I joined other conferees on a bus to Newport, Oregon, boarded a tour boat, and motored a few nautical miles offshore to see an innovative wave-energy installation.

Check out my video of the Ocean Sentinel below, and also a video I took of a small-scale wave-energy device being tested in Oregon State University’s Tsunami Wave Basin.

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