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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Tuesday, November 13, 2001

Navy to test wave power

By Eloise Aguiar
Windward O‘ahu Writer

In a project with military-wide implications, the Navy will attempt to harness the power of the ocean's waves to provide electricity for Marine Corps Base Hawai'i at Kane'ohe.

The pilot project will test whether the PowerBuoys system, developed by Ocean Power Technologies of New Jersey, is feasible for military use, said Don Rochon, public affairs officer for Pacific Division of the Naval Facilities Engineering Command. The renewable wave energy is not only a great source of power but is nonpolluting and, if adopted, could reduce the military's dependence on oil, Rochon said.

The Navy will explain the project at a meeting tonight in Kailua.

Initially the project, to be placed offshore of the Kane'ohe base's Hilltop housing, will provide about 80 to 120 kilowatts of electricity, or enough to power a small building. By comparison, it takes about two to three kilowatts to power an average home.

Hawai'i was chosen for the test because its waves have, on average, some of the highest recorded wave power in the world, Rochon said. Other bases near the ocean could benefit from the test, but whether the technology can be applied will depend on the amount of wave energy produced at those locations.

"Hawai'i is one of the best places for this type of wave energy technology," he said, adding that the Navy must conduct an environmental assessment first and the project should be under way by early 2003.

The $5 million project is expected to collect data for several years before any decision is made to expand its use.

Harnessing the ocean's wave power is not a new idea, dating back to the times of the Crusades when water wheels turned by waves dotted the English coast. More recent attempts have involved fixed and floating systems.

Ocean Power originally developed its technology to recharge batteries for underwater vehicles in another research project under the Navy Small Business Innovative Research Program.

The Kane'ohe system, made up of four to six buoy-like cylinders, will be anchored 4 to 13 feet below the surface of the ocean. A mast with navigational lights will mark the location of the PowerBuoys.

"Inside the buoy, a piston-like structure moves as the PowerBuoys bobs with the rise and fall of the waves," Rochon said. "This movement drives a generator on the ocean floor, producing electricity, which is sent to shore by an underwater cable."

Ocean Power Technologies also is testing the system in New Jersey and Australia, he said.

Hawaiian Electric Co. is following the Navy experiment closely, said Fred Kobashikawa, HECO spokesman. While recognizing that the technology has application in the islands, HECO is concerned about the cost of the technology's infrastructure.

"We feel there are applications for technology like this wave machine, and where appropriate we definitely would investigate it," Kobashikawa said.

The Office of Naval Research, through a congressional grant, is managing the project. The Pacific Division of the Naval Facilities Engineering Command will perform the environmental assessment and obtain the required permits.

Reach Eloise Aguiar at eaguiar@honoluluadvertiser.com or call 234-5266.