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Hawaii Waves Have Energy and Job Potential

January 19, 2012, 10:44 AM HST · Updated January 19, 11:08 AM
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Maui Coastal Waters, photo by Wendy Osher.

By Wendy Osher

A new report released today estimates that waves off Hawaii’s coast contain enough energy to generate over 80 terawatt hours of electricity per year if developed to their maximum potential.

The estimates, contained in a report compiled by the US Department of Energy, also revealed that wave and other water power resources across the US could potentially provide 15% of the nation’s electricity by 2030.

“Hawaii’s wave resources offer real opportunities to generate renewable energy using water power technologies in the future,” said Energy Secretary Steven Chu.

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“Together with new advances and innovations in water power technologies, these resource assessments can help to further develop the country’s significant ocean energy resources, create new industries and new jobs in America, and secure US leadership in an emerging global market,” said Chu.

In addition to the potential for contributing  to electricity production, use of water and wave resources for power is also seen as a way to diversify the nation’s energy portfolio, and provide renewable energy options for coastal communities.

The wave report, “Mapping and Assessment of the United States Ocean Wave Energy Resource,” calculated the maximum kinetic energy available from waves off US coasts that could be used for future energy production.

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According to the Energy Department report, the US uses about 4,000 terawatt hours of electricity per year.

Energy officials say the maximum theoretical electric generation from waves is about 1,170 TWh annually, or about 30% of the nation’s annual usage.  Currently, 6% of the nation’s electricity is generated from renewable hydropower resources.

In 2008, Australian-based Oceanlinx Ltd. announced plans to build a system off the northeast coast of Maui at Pauwela, designed to use energy generated by ocean waves to create electricity.

At the time, company executives estimated that the $20 million project would be capable of providing up to 2.7 megawatts of power to Maui Electric Company.

The system of floating platforms is designed to utilize wave technology similar to that of a blow-hole in which the rising sea swells force air through a column onto a turbine which generates electricity.

Other alternative energy projects on the radar for Maui include Sempra Generation’s proposed 21-MW wind farm at Ulupalakua in East Maui; the proposed utilization of more biofuel at the Ma’alaea Power Plant; and the generation of up to a half a megawatt of power from a small hydro plant above Lahaina.

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