AquaBuOY, the tidal energy-harnessing progeny of Finavera Renewables, has found its first commercial taker in the United States. Pacific Gas and Electric (likely in a response to California state law requiring 20% of energy from utilities to be renewable by 2010) has signed on for two megawatts worth of wave energy from the Canadian corporation.
The installation of eight AquaBuOYs, planned for an area 2.5 miles off the shore of Humboldt County, is expected to be operable by 2012, and would provide power for up to 1500 homes. If the project is successful, Finavera hopes to increase the wave farm to 100 megawatts.
Full-scale AquaBuOYs are forty-ton, seventy-five foot tall structures that work through wave action and simple hydraulic principles. (An animated video of the AquaBuOY with symphonic accompaniment is available above.) Simply put, the uppermost part of the AquaBuOY bobs on the surface of the ocean, providing the motion to pump a long piston dangling underneath it. The piston pressurizes a chamber which powers a turbine, producing electricity.
A test run of AquaBuOY off the Oregon coast ended with a bilge pump failure and a sinking of the prototype, a nearly 6 million dollar loss. However, Finavera quickly rebounded with the new contract with Pacific Gas and Electric and the backing of private investors.
According to Finavera, wave farms will produce energy optimally at one to five cents more per watt than coal or natural gas, but at up to thirteen cents per watt cheaper than current solar or wind technologies.
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