PG&E aims to harness wave energy

Pacific Gas and Electric has applied to the federal government for permission to study the feasibility of installing a wave energy facility off the coast of northern Santa Barbara County.

The utility announced Friday that it has filed the necessary applications with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the U.S. Air Force to conduct a three-year feasibility study of the waters off Vandenberg Air Force Base between Point Conception and Point Arguello.

This location is attractive because the Air Force base has the onshore infrastructure to accept power and feed it into the state’s electricity grid, said Kory Raftery, PG&E spokesman.

“We studied the coast, and there is also great wave energy there,” he said.

If the study shows that a wave energy facility would be feasible there, the utility would then move into the licensing phase. If built, the facility could produce as much as 100 megawatts of power, enough to power about 100,000 homes.

This is the second wave power project proposed for the Central Coast. A company called Green Wave Energy Solutions is looking at installing a similar-sized wave energy facility offshore of Montaña de Oro State Park.

For the past year, PG&E has been studying the feasibility of a wave energy facility at Humboldt County. The lessons learned from that Northern California study would allow the utility to skip over the testing phase at its Vandenberg site, Raftery said.

PG&E and the whole wave energy industry are still trying to determine which technology is best. Engineering devices that can reliably generate electricity in the harsh ocean environment are challenging.

Some prototypes that are being looked at include snakelike devices floating on the surface that string together multiple hinged components that undulate as waves pass as well as various float-and-bob devices that convert the up-and-down motion of the waves into electricity.

Wave energy is part of a worldwide effort to develop renewable energy sources. However, it is still in its infancy.

Currently, only about 300 megawatts of wave energy are produced worldwide. A 250-megawatt seawall-based system is set to come online next year in South Korea, Raftery said.

Reach David Sneed at 781-7930.