Hawaii National Marine Renewable Energy Center

Challenges and Barriers

Wave Energy Conversion (WEC) devices and OTEC systems are in the pre-commercial phase with several experimental projects having already demonstrated that the technology works but lacking the operational records required to proceed into commercialization. Adequately sized pilot projects must be operated in situ and  for at least one continuous year to obtain these records.

The major challenge associated with commercialization of WEC and OTEC devices is posed by the requirement to finance relatively high capital investments that must be balanced by the expected but yet to be demonstrated low operational costs.  Perhaps a lesson can be learned from the successful commercialization of wind energy due to consistent government funding of pilot or pre-commercial projects that led to appropriate and realistic determination of technical requirements and operational costs in Germany, Denmark and Spain. In this context, by commercialization we mean that equipment can be financed under terms that yield cost competitive electricity. This of course depends on specific conditions at each site. Presently, for example, in Hawai’i cost competitiveness requires electricity produced at less than about 0.20 $/kWh, while in Oregon the value would have to be closer to about 0.07 $/kWh.

In the case of OTEC, our analysis indicates that a 5 MW pilot plant must be operated prior implementation of 50 to 100 MW commercial plants. The “210 kW OC-OTEC Experimental Apparatus”, was successfully operated over 5-years (1993-1998) and provided invaluable information but was relatively small.  In the case of WEC devices, with a few and limited exceptions, the operational records obtained to date are not long enough nor under the required varied environmental loading conditions required to proceed with confidence into the commercial phase. There are some WEC designs with appropriate operational records although they are only cost competitive under limited conditions. 

Our challenges as facilitators are:

– How to overcome the lack of consistent funding that is required for industry to proceed from concept design to the required pre-commercial demonstration phase; and, specifically, how to obtain funding for the OTEC Pilot Plant;

– How to streamline the burdensome, although necessary, process of obtaining leases, easements, licenses and permits including the vital Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).  The process is project specific, expensive and requiring as much as 5-years for commercial projects. The dream is to evolve into a situation represented by a one-stop-shop where industry can process all documentation stipulated under federal, state, city and county regulations avoiding duplicity, contradictory requirements and jurisdictional disputes among agencies;

– Industry timelines are not always consistent with HINMREC objectives and subject to vagaries of funding.

As stated above, the major challenge associated with commercialization of WEC and OTEC is posed by the requirement to finance relatively high capital investments that must be balanced by the expected but yet to be demonstrated low operational costs.

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