University of Michigan picks Beaver Island for wave energy study

Graham Sustainability Institute’s research team from the University of Michigan is to conduct a feasibility study off the coast of Beaver Island in Michigan, U.S., as part of an effort to explore the possibility of powering remote and underserved coastal communities with wave energy technology.

The project team on site, on Beaver Island. (Source: University of Michigan)

The project, named Catching the Waves, aims to harness Lake Michigan’s wave energy and generate renewable energy. Potential sites will be evaluated based on wave energy resources, environmental sustainability, and community preferences. Selecting the optimal site will be a step toward providing Beaver Island with clean, reliable energy and will enhance the team’s chances for future funding, said the University of Michigan.

The catalyst grant will focus on identifying the best location to deploy a wave energy converter (WEC) on Beaver Island. The project is backed by a grant that provides up to $10,000 over eight months to develop new, user-driven, collaborative research ideas or to apply existing research to real-world situations.

The project team comprises Xiaofan Li, PI (Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering), Gail Gruenwald (Beaver Island Association), Ayumi Fujisaki-Manome (Cooperative Institute for Great Lakes Research/Climate & Space Sciences and Engineering), and Lei Zuo (Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering).

Beaver Island in Lake Michigan, home to about 600 permanent residents, relies on unstable power connections and diesel generators. Over the past year, the research team has collaborated with Beaver Island residents, who will be the project’s primary end-users. The project aims to benefit numerous U.S. islands facing similar energy issues by implementing a transferable solution. 

Local media reported that Xiaofan Li from the University of Michigan highlighted the challenges faced by communities like Beaver Island, stating that many such communities “are in the middle of nowhere” and lack a reliable power supply. Beaver Island relies on a single underwater cable for power from the mainland, which is often unreliable, necessitating the use of backup diesel generators during extreme weather.

According to local media, Li mentioned that the island residents expressed a strong interest in finding a renewable power source. This summer, Li will join a team of engineers and sociologists to identify the best location on the island for a wave energy converter. If the project proceeds as planned, the University of Michigan hopes to deploy a prototype by summer 2026.