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Thursday, November 01, 2007

Wave Energy Buoy Plunges to Ocean Floor (Oregon)

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Wave energy buoy plunges to ocean floor
By Winston Ross
The Register-Guard

Published: Thursday, November 1, 2007

NEWPORT — A 72-foot-tall wave energy buoy is sitting at the bottom of the ocean floor today — all 35 tons of it — after the $2 million contraption leaked, filled with water and sank.

It will remain there, 2½ miles off of Agate Beach, until next spring.

A spokesman for the buoy’s owner, British Columbia-based Finavera Renewables Inc., said the experimental device already has done its job collecting data over the past two months, and the steel tube would have been cut into scrap anyway, once it was removed from the water.

That isn’t going to happen anytime soon, however. The waves are too high to remove the buoy safely, and with winter looming, the seas won’t settle down before spring, said Michael Clark, Finavera’s spokesman.

“The loss is bad publicity,” Clark said. “We would not have liked this to happen, but what we want people to take away from it is that it’s not going to impact the development of this technology, and getting it to a commercial stage.”

Having finished gathering the data it needed, the buoy, which is 12 feet in diameter, was scheduled to be pulled out of the water this month. But last Friday it started experiencing “buoyancy issues,” Clark said. Water was leaking into the device, and the bilge pump inside it — installed specifically to handle leakage — failed. By midday Saturday, the buoy was 110 feet below sea level. The company has since removed the anchor and cables that had tethered it in place.

The tube is equipped with a rubberized pump that takes in seawater, causing a piston inside it to move up and down, generating hydraulic electricity. Clark said he’s not sure why it leaked, and that there’s no way to tell until it’s back out of the water. The buoy was collecting data on how much energy it could generate.

“It was a prototype,” Clark said, “and issues arise with prototypes sometimes. This is not going to be the device we would use in a commercial wave project, which clearly would have gone through a lot more testing, including survivability tests.”

Clark said the sunken buoy isn’t a navigation hazard — it’s on its side, at the bottom of the ocean, and was placed away from popular fishing grounds so that it wouldn’t interfere with boats.

“There’s absolutely no risk of any environmental damage,” Clark added. “It’s not moving at all, and there are no hydraulic oils in it.”

To remove it, crews need three days of good weather and small seas, Clark said. That may not happen until next year.

“We got all the data we need out of it,” Clark said. “That aspect was a success, from our point of view.”

But the sinking may add fodder to an increasingly wary group of fishermen and residents along the Oregon Coast concerned that networks of wave energy buoys could affect sensitive marine ecology areas and be difficult to maintain.

“It’s eye-opening, really,” said Gus Gates, a member of the nonprofit Surfrider Foundation, which has been monitoring wave energy’s progress in recent months. “They should be required to get that out of there. It’s a big chunk of trash in our ocean.”

Gregg Kleiner, a spokesman for Oregon State University, said he didn’t think the sinking would make it harder to sell the public on wave energy, noting that the newness of the technology is bound to mean failed prototypes.

“This is wave energy; it’s a hostile environment out there,” Kleiner said. “That’s what research is about. You develop a prototype and learn from your mistakes.”

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think we all should support wave energy technology as long as these bouys are carefully placed and tethered to prevent collareral damage. This is future technology which provides hope for the planet to become free from use of fosil fuel energy. Sure we don't need anymore trash in our ocean, especailly such litter which could have been easily prevented.

8:03 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, alternative energies can help us move away from fossil-fuel based energies. But let's not forget about the implications of this in-water technologies. Think, for instance, about hundreds or even thousands of buoys capturing wave energy. They have the capacity to disrupt movement and migration of fish and marine life, not to mention change the habitat. And as surfers, we should be aware that wave and tidal energy technologies can reduce wave and tidal energy on the beach - affecting the nearshore environments AND surf breaks! A clear and systematic review of pros and cons is essential here.

7:04 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Perhaps the GyroWaveGen(tm) technology will offer a more ocean friendly solution, since it appears that it would be much less prone to sinking (if not impossible), rides on top of the waves (much as a surfer does) and maintains a very low profile. Granted, though, any wave energy capturing device would have both some potentially negative as well as largely positive environmental impact. One goal would be to make sure that any negative impacts are as small as possible and preferably negligible (at least compared with how we are currently damaging the environment in order to get energy). As to decreasing local wave activity, these technologies, if deployed on a large scale, would indeed decrease wave activity and could affect not only surfing, but fishing and ship navigation as well. On the other hand, this could be a plus in areas where there is significant coastal erosion or possibilities of storm damage. Therefore any "wave farms" should not be located where such impacts would be unacceptable. But, on a global scale, even having many large wave farms would not pose a significant impact on world-wide wave activity (since at most only 5% or less of total wave energy will ever be able to be captured, even in 100 years). Who knows, maybe these kinds of devices would make for very effective "horizontal levies" that can help to absorb hurricane driven wave surges (you could probably completely turn off other generators during a hurricane).

2:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Even after fifty years of offshore oil structures use in the Gulf of Mexico the uneducated continue to draw conclusions exactly 100% off the mark. Do some research before making statements like

'They have the capacity to disrupt movement and migration of fish and marine life, not to mention change the habitat.'

What an idiot. Research has shown for decades now that offshore oil structures do not inhibit marine life, they actually promote it. The State of Lousiana has documented that the hundreds of oil strutures off its coast are the "most" abundant and perhaps most diverse [in measure of species per square meter of habitat] locations for all marine life for the entire coastal waters of the state and possible the entire Gulf of Mexico. These oil structures harbor and encourage the propogation of hundreds of species, some very fragile. Eco weenies usually know nothing about what they speak is my experience, thus this post to set the record straight.

7:37 AM  

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