HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Hawaii is known for its surf, but now, its waves are being used for more than just sport. The motion of the ocean is helping Hawaii become a leader in wave energy.
Parts of the Marine Corps Base Hawaii in Kaneohe are actually drawing electrical power from ocean waves. The U.S. Navy, along with the company Ocean Power Technologies, have been testing this kind of alternative energy for years. While it's still in the early stages, they say it's the first time wave technology has produced power to an electrical grid in the U.S.
A yellow buoy in the middle of Kaneohe bay may not look like much from aboard our Navy escort boat, but underwater, the technology is converting wave energy into electricity that could potentially power much of the Marine Corps base.
"For this type of technology, what you need is not really good surfing waves, but you need waves that are in short duration," says John Dunbar, an energy management consultant for the Marine Corps Base Hawaii facilities department.
The buoy runs 100 feet below the water's surface. The yellow float and a black pole or 'spar' move with the rise and fall of the waves and drive a generator that produces electricity. It sits about three-quarters of a mile offshore, while data is being collected on land.
An undersea cable connects the buoy to an office onshore - where engineers evaluate how much power is being produced. Eventually, they'd like to expand the buoy into something much bigger on the bay. "Like a buoy farm, which would all be generating power and feeding back into the grids," explains Dunbar.
Wave power hasn't had the attention that other alternative energy sources, like solar and wind, have - in part, because it's more complex.
"The ocean's tough. The ocean's rough. It takes some sophisticated technology to make it work out there. It's not a matter of just throwing something in the water and think, 'It's going to produce power' because the ocean will beat it up," Dunbar elaborates.
This could be a model for other military installations around the world. The Secretary of the Navy wants half of all energy use on naval bases to come from alternative sources by 2020, and the commanding officer at Kaneohe's base hopes they can be energy self-sustaining by 2015.
Congress had earmarked two million dollars annually for this project since 2001. However, this year, the budget was slashed considerably, and they only received 450-thousand dollars.