OSU Extension engages fishermen in wave energy research

Article photo
A wave energy testing device that has been deployed off the Oregon Coast. Photo by Pat Kight

About 40 percent of the U.S. population lives in a coastal area. Harnessing wave energy could supply these millions of Americans with electricity and create jobs in the process. But wave energy technology has potential to disrupt the livelihood of commercial fishermen.

Two wave energy test sites have been designated in the ocean off Lincoln County. They are operated by the Northwest National Marine Renewable Energy Center (NNMREC), headquartered at Oregon State University. NNMREC is a three-university consortium devoted to research on marine renewable energy technology.

Knowing the potential for controversy, Lincoln County commissioners turned to Oregon Sea Grant Extension to engage NNMREC’s researchers with local commercial fishermen to address community concerns surrounding wave energy research and development.

Extension’s liaison role turned out to be critical in forging a partnership, says Kaety Jacobson, Extension agent for Oregon Sea Grant in Newport. She and other Extension faculty worked with county commissioners, NNMREC researchers and created a fishermen’s advisory group called Fishermen Involved in Natural Energy (FINE).

Members of FINE became “the voice of the fisheries,” said Jacobson, applying their knowledge of the marine environment to become partners in collaborative research. “It shows that community collaboration does work,” she says. “We helped make it possible for off-shore renewable energy, fishing and marine habitat to coexist.”

The strong community support helped NNMREC land a highly competitive $40 million grant from the Department of Energy to design and build an open-water, grid-connected testing platform for wave energy. The new facility, planned to be operational in early 2020, will enable researchers to test wave energy converters at full scale, and is expected to speed the commercialization of this renewable energy source.

According to the DoE, wave energy along all U.S. coastlines could potentially produce between 900 and 1,230 terawatt-hours (TWh) of electricity per year. Just one TWh would be enough to power all of Lincoln County for two years.

Source: Kaety Jacobson, Sea Grant Extension; U.S. Department of Energy

See this video of a presentation on wave energy by Belinda Batten, NNMREC director and OSU professor of mechanical engineering.

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