Photo: The Fred. Olsen Lifesaver wave energy converter deployed at WETS during 2018/2019 (Courtesy of UH/Photo by Pat Cross)

U.S. Navy gives $6M boost for Hawaii wave energy research

The Naval Facilities Engineering and Expeditionary Warfare Center has provided $6 million to the University of Hawaii at Mānoa (UH) to provide critical research and logistical support to the Navy’s Wave Energy Test Site (WETS), located offshore Marine Corps Base Hawaii.

Photo showing the Fred. Olsen Lifesaver wave energy converter deployed at WETS during 2018/2019 (Courtesy of UH/Photo by Pat Cross)
The Fred. Olsen Lifesaver wave energy converter deployed at WETS during 2018/2019 (Courtesy of UH/Photo by Pat Cross)

WETS is the only grid-connected test site in the U.S. and thus provides a unique proving ground for pre-commercial wave energy converters (WECs) to demonstrate performance in an operational setting and advance their technology readiness level.

The funds, directed to the Applied Research Laboratory at UH, working with the Hawaii Natural Energy Institute (HNEI), will allow the university to support a number of WEC deployments planned in the 2021 to 2024 timeframe in the form of environmental monitoring, power and survivability performance assessment, and additional logistics support to the Navy and to WEC developer companies.

Pat Cross, research specialist in marine energy at HNEI, said: “We are excited by the Navy’s latest investment in our work to advance wave energy through our support of WETS, particularly as it allows us to expand our research into new areas of relevance to offshore applications, such as autonomous vehicle recharge for ocean observing purposes”.

Marine energy has immense potential to supply persistent power to ocean observing and monitoring, desalination, aquaculture, at-sea mineral scavenging, and electrification of remote or island communities.

In addition to core support to WETS, the new funds will support an expansion of UH research related to offshore, non-grid-connected applications of wave energy.

WETS as testing ground for off-grid wave energy applications

HNEI will examine the potential for existing WETS infrastructure to support the creation of an offshore test and demonstration node, including subsea power storage as well as communications and power interfaces that would allow smaller-scale WECs to recharge autonomous undersea vehicles (AUVs) and various environmental sensing systems.

The team will also design an AUV docking and charging station for use at WETS, according to UH.

The new funding further supports HNEI and UH researchers to advance a number of research projects such as a power generation and management system for a floating oscillating water column WEC, designed for applications such as ocean observation, navigation, and equipment recharge. 

A novel breakwater system will also be advanced with an integrated WEC that will generate power from wave energy while protecting coastal regions.

Additionally, the team will develop a small-scale WEC that can be rapidly deployed for both power generation and seawater desalination close to shore.

“This is an exciting time for the EXWC Marine Energy Development program”, added Nate Sinclair, WETS program manager at Naval Facilities Engineering and Expeditionary Warfare Center. “Along with continuing to provide in-situ testing infrastructure and support for wave energy power to shore, we’re now making substantial investments for pursuing technology development that will lead to providing power in remote locations for Navy applications such as persistent surveillance and AUV recharging”.

UH said it will partner with research colleagues at the University of Washington and Oregon State University to advance many such concepts under these new funds.