The United States has caught the perfect wave and may be surfing its way to a clean energy future. Azura, a prototype wave energy generator and the first of its kind in the United States, is online and producing electricity in Hawaii. The wave energy generator was developed by Northwest Energy Innovations, an Oregon-based cleantech company, and co-sponsored by the United States Navy. For a nation in which over 123 million Americans, or 39 percent of the total population, live in on or near the coast, wave energy could be a game changer.
Weighing 45 tons, Azura captures energy from the waves’ up and down motions, which lift all ships, and forward and back motions, which bring the surf crashing into the sand. A generator inside the machine translates kinetic energy into electricity, which is then sent to the grid via underwater cables. The system went online last month and is already showing promising results. Although Azura currently produces only only twenty kilowatts of energy, the technology has the potential to provide clean, consistent power to coastal cities and states. Waves are created by wind’s interaction with the water, so there is an inherent randomness to the size and strength of waves. It is certain, however, that wind will continue to blow and waves will continue to crash, making wave generator technology more reliable than volatile fossil fuels.
If wave generator technology can be sufficiently scaled up, Hawaii may have found a powerful tool in its effort to reach 100 percent renewable energy by 2045. The next stage of the project will involve using an assessment of Azura’s performance to create a design for a new generator capable of capturing the energy of much larger waves and operating in depths of up to 150 feet. This new generator is expected to produce up to one megawatt of electricity, which is enough to power several hundred homes. The new system may be online as soon as 2017.