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Olympia Energy Program catches the wave

WSU’s Energy Program in Olympia is working on bringing a new wave of renewable energy into Washington homes.

“Ocean wave energy is a clean alternative form of energy that does not produce the pollution and greenhouse gases that natural gas generating facilities do,” said Jake Fey, WSU Energy Program director. “It helps meet the growing need in the Northwest for renewable resources that do not contribute to global warming.”

The energy is produced by the motion on a buoy that is anchored to the bed of the ocean, Fey said. Saltwater filters through a cylinder of turbines beneath the buoy, and the energy created is transferred to a transmission system on the shoreline.

Although the project is still in the development stage, the WSU Energy Program, in conjunction with Bellevue-based Aquaenergy, hopes to have a four-buoy demonstration in the near future on Neah Bay. The buoys could produce up to one megawatt of electricity at any one time, and about 500,000 kilowatts on a daily basis.

“The proposed demonstration is the first of its kind in the U.S,“ Fey said.

Gaining credibility, backing

If the project succeeds, Fey said Aquaenergy, the WSU Energy Program and others will work together to do a larger demonstration in Grays Harbor, where there is more transmission capacity and the ability to move the power into the western Washington utilities grid.

“This is only a small step, though,“ Fey said. “It is not going to solve our energy problems overnight. The technology needs to be evaluated in depth to determine the total amount of energy that can be produced by the waves.“

Before any of these plans can proceed, however, Aquaenergy must work with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, a host of state agencies, the Neah Bay community, the Makah Indian tribe and public utilities to gain approval for a permit to proceed with the demonstration. Fey hopes this collaborative effort will reduce the amount of time it would normally take to gain approval for a project like this.

The project also faces challenges on a national level.

“The federal government has not yet recognized the benefits and opportunities surrounding this emerging resource,“ Fey said. “Therefore, there has been no federal funding for the project. Hopefully this will change in the near future.“

The WSU Energy Program oversees a broad spectrum of other energy-related programs. For example:

• As of Jan. 1, 2004, it manages and operates the official national information center for the U.S. Department of Energy on energy efficiency and renewable energy.
• The WSU Energy Program just finalized a French version of the International Motor Selection and Savings Analysis software tool that it developed. The software will be used by the Canadian government and aids in evaluation of industrial motors.
• The WSU Energy Program evaluates the impact of moisture on building materials, including: how materials perform in the Northwest climate, what moisture problems are occurring in new construction projects, and what the best solutions are for builders and building material manufacturers.

For more information on the WSU Energy Program, visit

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