KANEOHE (HawaiiNewsNow) - Hawaii will soon be the new site for a high-tech device that harnesses wave energy to create electricity. A group in New Zealand designed the original converter. Northwest Energy Innovations helped advance the technology and developed a half-scale prototype which is now off the coast of Oregon.
"The current device doesn't have a very large generator in it. We're more focused with proving the concept and maximizing the efficiency of the conversion process," explained managing partner Justin Klure of Northwest Energy Innovations.
The device, called Wave Energy Technology-New Zealand (NET-WZ), is 75-feet long and weighs 50 tons. It will be pulled out of the ocean in a couple of weeks. The plan is to connect the converter to an undersea cable at the U.S. Navy's Wave Energy Test Site in Kaneohe Bay.
"All assumptions at this stage are that the environmental effects are relatively benign, but at the same time, the burden of proof is on the industry to demonstrate that," Klure said.
According to Klure, an environmental assessment was already done for a similar device at the Kaneohe facility. Hawaii News Now reached out to the Navy to find out about any additional permits needed, but did not receive a response.
Another challenge facing the emerging industry is building a device that can survive year-round in harsh ocean conditions. WET-NZ harnesses energy from the heave (up and down), surge (back and forth), and pitch (rolling) motion of a wave.
"As that float moves up and down, that's actually pressurizing hydraulic fluid and utilizing a hydraulic generator to essentially convert to electricity," explained Klure.
The Hawaii project is being funded by a $500,000 award from the U.S. Department of Energy and $125,000 from the New Zealand government.
"I would say we're probably 3 to 5 years off from developing a full-scale device, and then considering significant other economic factors and technical issues, hopefully not too far behind from generating a commercial wave farm," Klure said.
WET-NZ is expected to arrive in Hawaii by the end of 2012 and will collect data in Kaneohe Bay for up to one year.