This week was another that flew right by. I’m researching story pitches for a coastal magazine to help raise awareness about marine issues and the work OSG is doing. One pitch that came in late in the game was by far the most challenging, and the most interesting one out of the bunch because I didn’t know anything about the subject. Wave energy. What is it? How does it work? And why in the world is there so much hubbub surrounding it in Oregon? Well, after almost a full days research and very informative conversations with Mark Farley and Kaety Hildenbrand of the HMSC, I can answer all of those questions (mostly).
Wave energy is a very promising resource that if done right, may solve a lot of Oregon’s energy needs. But apparently there is a lot more that goes into harnessing wave energy than just floating a buoy around in the ocean. Wave energy requires a lot of space, whether it’s in a vertical or a horizontal sense. In addition to the mechanism that absorbs and collects the energy, a whole network of cables, mooring, pipes, and a bunch of other stuff is needed to keep the equipment from floating away or banging into each other, and to ensure that the energy that is collected makes it to land. Aside from the benefits of a renewable energy source, there are a lot of environmental factors that come into play when exploring wave energy farms. The cables and moorings are obtrusive and may block migratory paths or feeding grounds for marine animals and the electrical current can attract animals (like crab) to the cables. And on top of that, the rigid tethers and anchors could potentially make an entire soft-bottom substrate ecosystem disappear because they will attract hard-bottom animals like shellfish. They will in turn attract predators, and so on, potentially displacing entire populations. It’s a topic that could easily keep one researcher busy for months.
After delving into the subject, I have begun to fully appreciate the full scale of the Coastal Marine Spatial Planning OSG is involved in. The planning is a collaboration of land and water management and community stakeholders and the work falls under the premise of determining who and what will be the most or least affected by wave energy. In part, it’s the complexity of the situation that makes it so important that people are educated about the potential benefits and harmful “side effects” of wave energy. The resource planning spans the arenas of engineering, marine science, economics, philosophy, and sociology. Pretty fascinating stuff.