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PG&E’s 5MW Wave Energy Project Sinks

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A project that could’ve helped to advance wave energy development is no more. At least for now. The Pacific Gas and Electric Co. has suspended a 5-megawatt project off Northern California coast primarily because it’d cost too much.

The pilot project would’ve provided a valuable opportunity to test promising technologies to convert the wave’s motion into electricity about three miles off the coast of Humboldt County. PG&E began investigating the feasibility of the project back in 2007 and had filed an application with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for a 5-year license earlier this year.

The utility had planned to select three or four developers of wave energy converter equipment by the end of this year and secure the federal permit by June 2011 (here is a list of wave energy technologies that PG&E considered). The company quietly announced the suspension of the project last Friday by issuing a press release only to Humboldt-area media.

Though promising, wave energy development is still in the early stages. FERC has only issued one license to build and operate a wave project, according to its website. The license holder, Finavera Renewables, surrendered that license last year, citing difficulties in raising enough money to do the 1-megawatt project off the coast of Washington state. FERC has issued 11 permits for studying the feasibility of building wave power farms in the country, all of them located in the Pacific Ocean.

At the end, though, PG&E opted to discontinue with the project because of the costs of financing a project that would’ve involved unproven technologies and been limited in its ability to expand, said company spokesman Brian Swanson. In PG&E’s permit application, it had estimated that the project would require $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 wave energy converters. The utility also pegged the operating and maintenance costs at about $5 million annually, though the number didn’t include any environmental protection measures.

PG&E could have been a pioneering wave energy developer if it had continued and completed the project. But blazing the trail would’ve required some extra costs that the private, investor-owned utility wasn’t willing to take on.

“There is no precedent and no other project to compare to, and there is a need for monitoring and adoptive management plans to evaluate and respond to the potential environmental impact. That management plan had a high cost associated with,” Swanson said.

Plus, Swanson said the Humboldt project was set for a location that wouldn’t have allowed it to expand its generation capacity, something that could’ve made the operating of the project cheaper in the long run.

Although PG&E ditched the Humboldt project, it isn’t ready to give up wave energy yet. The company is continuing with its proposed plan to do a pilot project off the coast of Santa Barbara County in central California. The company is still studying the feasibility of building a 10-megawatt project, which would float in an area that is large enough to accommodate a 100-megawatt farm, Swanson said. The Humboldt region remains a potential site for future projects, he said.

The utility hasn’t only been interested in building its own wave energy projects. It once proposed to buy electricity from what could have been the country’s first wave energy power plant. Finavera was set to develop the 2-megawatt project off Northern California coast. But the California Public Utilities said no to the power purchase agreement in 2008 because the technology was unproven and costly.

PG&E also abandoned a plan to build another pilot project off the cost of Mendocino County in Northern California in 2009.

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Photo courtesy of  Wonderlane

One Response to “PG&E’s 5MW Wave Energy Project Sinks”

  1. Previously I made a lot of negative comments related to the project and how it was handled.
    Again I propose the following as PG&E should not abandon its endouvors. Details at
    1. Prototype
    Information and a set of Drawings are available for manufacturing and installing a prototype for the REWGD systems as detailed under prototype.
    2. Wave Gear Drive System-WGD
    The WGD system provides wave power leveling to provide constant power through the whole cycle of the wave of 360 degrees. This is achieved by means of local energy storage above the “Construction Unit”, capacitors and/or high inertia fly wheels.
    The WGD system consists of a buoyant float on the sea surface moving up and down with the wave motion developing an uplift force of 2,650.7 Kilograms. This uplift force is transferred through a set of pulleys and reduction gear to pumps or generators to generate electric power which is conditioned, synchronized and transmitted to the shore ready for connection to electric network. The equipment used is the following:
    a. Wave Air Pump-WAP: Compresses a small quantity of air to a high pressure; collects and feeds it to the air inlet of a turbo generator. Fuel is injected as needed to maintain required turbo generator output at reduced fuel consumption irrespective of availability of waves. Adding a “fogging system” (injecting water vapor into the turbine inlet air) will further improve the efficiency of the turbo generator as detailed at:wbsite:
    b. Wave Gear Drive Pump-WGDP: The float directly drives a pump through a set of pulleys and reduction gear to pump a small quantity of water to a high head; collect and feed it to a hydro-turbo generator to generate electric power. The wave water pump can be either:
    I. A WWP, reciprocating wave water pump..
    II. A WWP rotary wave water pump
    c. Wave Gear Drive Generator-WGDG: The float directly drives a Generator through a set of pulleys and reduction gear, to directly generate electric power. The generator can be:
    I. A synchronous AC Generator where Alternating voltage is conditioned; synchronized and feed to a step up transformer for transmission through a cable to the shore.
    II. A DC Generator where Direct Current voltage is conditioned, converted to AC voltage, synchronized and feed to a step up transformer for transmission through a cable to the shore.