UH project could bring wave of prosperity
The University of Hawaii has won an intensely sought-after award, being selected as one of two National Marine Renewable Test Centers, with Oregon State University as the other. I met with university administration and faculty to promote this project, and UH stepped up to the plate. The award is for a five-year project with federal funding, leaving UH poised to become a major focal point for the wave energy industry.
As a test center, UH will receive federal funding to study and encourage the implementation of wave energy systems in Hawaiian waters. Our strong wave climate, combined with the highest use of fossil fuel and electricity rates in the nation, make Hawaii an ideal location for the development of lower-cost wave power.
It has been a banner year for renewable energy in Hawaii. After Congress passed the "Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007," the U.S. Department of Energy signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the state of Hawaii in January, seeking to produce 70 percent of Hawaii's electricity needs from renewable resources by 2030.
In February, Oceanlinx, one of the world's leading wave energy developers, announced plans for a wave energy facility off Maui's northern coast. Recently, another wave energy company traveled to Hawaii to discuss opportunities for its proven technology.
The extent to which wave energy companies are drawn to Hawaii will ultimately determine how many jobs are created by their presence. However, given our large market and available resources, the potential is tremendous. Wave energy converters require engineers, consultants, commercial divers, maintenance crews, marine transport services, technicians and shipyard services. In other words, a vibrant wave energy industry will create well-paying jobs while keeping billions of dollars in our state economy instead of shipping them primarily to foreign countries to pay for oil.
With the recent surge in oil prices, renewable energy systems have been experiencing a renaissance. Investors who wanted nothing to do with renewable energy companies a few years ago are now scrambling to get their money invested in leading technologies. Those investors now can compete to catch the wave.
While the UH's designation as a National Marine Renewable Test Center will certainly make Hawaii a more attractive destination, it's important to note that Hawaii lacks a mechanism to connect wave energy systems to its power grid. Enter the Wave Hub, an undersea "outlet" that enables multiple wave energy systems to hook into the grid.
Construction of a Wave Hub about 10 miles off the southwest coast of England is creating a real-world testing ground. That Wave Hub should prove a commercial success, as there is already intense competition between rival wave energy companies seeking berths allowing their systems to plug into the Wave Hub.
In conjunction with the UH Marine Test Center, we must develop a Wave Hub here in Hawaii, so wave energy systems can compete to prove their commercial viability. Once an optimal location is selected, then the state can prepare the necessary environment and permit documents and install the seabed device and cable. Wave energy companies will be able to "plug in" their devices, without each spending years in the application phase.
In addition to our vibrant wave energy climate, federal, state and academic support can make Hawaii the premier destination for wave energy development in the United States, not to mention the Pacific theater. This is an innovation economy by definition - one that will make our state more secure and environmentally protected. UH won the award; now let's establish a Wave Hub and welcome wave energy converters to Hawaii's notoriously energetic seas.
Cynthia Thielen represents the 50th District (Kailua-Kaneohe Bay) in the state House of Representatives.