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Summary:

Looks like PG&E is finally giving up on wave power, for the time being. PG&E’s spokesman Denny Boyles tells KQED that it has essentially abandoned the wave power projects it had been researching, including pilot projects and permits for three areas along the California coast.

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Looks like California utility PG&E is finally giving up on wave power, for the time being. PG&E’s renewable energy spokesman Denny Boyles tells KQED’s Climate Watch, that the company has essentially abandoned any wave power projects it had been researching, including pilot projects and permits for three areas along the California coast.

It’s not all that shocking. Despite many companies’ best efforts, wave and tidal power installations have been largely stuck in the pilot stage, and bigger projects in particular have faced technical glitches and a lack of funding. According to research done by Black and Veatch (B&V) for the California Renewable Energy Transmission Initiative (RETI) last year, ocean power — both wave and tidal — have one of the highest levelized costs of energy (the cost over the life of the system) out of all the clean energy generation options out there (see graph).

Four years ago, PG&E agreed to buy energy from a wave power project that was going to be built by Finavera, and was slated to become the country’s first commercial wave power project. However state commissioners with the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) decided the technology was too new and the prices too high for a viable project, and approval for the energy procurement contract was denied.

PG&E also scrapped a plan last year to build a 5-MW pilot wave project off the Humboldt County cost in northern California, after finding the project was just too expensive. PG&E had estimated it would cost $50 million just to cover the expenses of installing the infrastructure for the power transmission, monitoring and other equipment. The figure didn’t include the cost of the equipment for converting the wave motion into energy. PG&E also abandoned a plan to build another pilot project off the cost of Mendocino County in Northern California in 2009.

The now-lieutenant governor Gavin Newsom (formerly San Francisco Mayor) has long been calling for a wave project off the California coast in the 2012-2013 time frame. In 2009, San Francisco submitted its own preliminary application to federal regulators for a permit to develop a 10 MW-30 MW project with potential to generate up to 100 MW. For comparison, the PG&E-Finavera deal that the regulators shot down was for just 2 MW.

I’m not sure the status of San Francisco’s wave permit project, and will update this when I hear more. But at the end of last year, Newsom was still talking about it. He said the city is working with a consulting firm, URS, whose report estimated the project could cost $120 million to $140 million. I don’t see that flying, particular if PG&E has now lost interest in the technology.

  1. Brian McConnell Wednesday, May 18, 2011

    No surprise here. Wave power is infrastructure intensive, and the equipment gets beaten badly every winter with the seasonal storms. It’s just much easier to build out a solar PV installation. Once built, you know that’ll last 30-40 years with little maintenance.

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  2. @Brian McConnell, Yeah seems like the nature of this tech (being tossed around by the waves) means long term expensive maintenance.

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  3. Albert Hartman Wednesday, May 18, 2011

    Difficult maintenance access, harsh saltwater environment, low energy density. It all makes windpower, geothermal and solar alternatives look like the better alternatives.

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  4. Well, according to the chart solar PV embodies the highest LCOE of all the technologies studied.

    Katie, the link you’ve put in to “wave and tidal power … technical glitches” points to a river current power project which is a different technology. Do you have links to actual problems faced in wave/tidal power?

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