Lockheed will construct the project and handle operations once it’s up and running, and New Jersey-based Ocean Power will provide the technology — so-called “PowerBuoy” (pictured) generators that convert wave energy into electricity, which can feed into a local power grid via underwater transmission lines. The 12-year-old company, one of the more established wave power developers in a growing field, claims that its 10-megawatt buoys can work in arrays of up to hundreds of megawatts.
Wave power technology, however, has yet to be tested on that scale. Even single-digit megawatt projects (“utility-scale” generally means generating capacity of at least 1 megawatt) remain in the early stages of development. As Finavera Renewables found out three months ago when the California Public Utilities Commission sunk a 2-megawatt project planned for the Pacific coast, it’s a long haul between an agreement like the Lockheed-Ocean Power one unveiled today and actual deployment.
California utility PG&E agreed to buy energy from the Finavera array back in 2007. It was slated to become the country’s first commercial wave power project — until state commissioners decided the technology was too new and the prices too high for a viable project. Approval for the energy procurement contract: denied.
To be sure, wave power has bulked up its utility-scale track record recently, and the Lockheed-Ocean Power project may fare better with regulators. The companies have already worked together on maritime surveillance projects for the U.S. government. And last fall, Spanish utility Iberdrola deployed a PowerBuoy off the coast of Spain in the first phase of what Ocean Power said would be the first commercial utility-scale wave power generation venture. (A 10-buoy, 1.39-megawatt array is planned for the site.) If Lockheed and Ocean Power can bring down the cost of a power-purchasing agreement, the West Coast may be home to the second.