Some New Jersey lawmakers want to harness the power of the ocean’s waves to create a new source of clean electricity, and several companies say they are eager to build projects there.
Assemblyman Robert Karabinchak plans to introduce legislation soon that would add wave energy to New Jersey’s energy master plan. The practical effect of doing so would be to open up funding sources for wave energy projects.
The state also could offer financial incentives to private companies who build so-called wave farms off the state’s shoreline.
“This is the future,” said Karabinchak, who held a hearing Thursday during which companies and an environmentalist extolled the untapped benefits of wave energy as a complement to wind and solar power as the state moves toward its goal of having all its energy come from clean sources.
“We all know it’s in its infancy, but it’s evolving so quickly,” said Karabinchak, a Middlesex County Democrat. “I don’t want to miss out on the opportunity New Jersey has.”
Wave energy involves capturing the kinetic energy of waves — energy created by motion — as they affect a solid object such as a buoy or floating plate. There are several types of technology used in the industry, and equipment can be used both near shore and in deeper water.
Among benefits cited by supporters are the lack of any greenhouse gas emissions and the fact that, unlike solar or wind projects, whose output is erratic, wave farms would produce power around the clock.
But important questions remain, including the technology’s long-term affordability, increasing concern from some quarters — including environmental groups — about rapid industrialization of the ocean, and whether New Jerseyans will react as negatively to floating buoys near the shore as many of them have thus far regarding the prospect of windmills on the distant horizon.
Assemblyman Don Guardian, a Republican from Atlantic City, raised the possibility of objections from swimmers or surfers to near-shore projects.
Inna Braverman, CEO of the Swedish company Eco Wave Power, said her firm’s products are designed to operate close to shore, connecting to existing structures like bulkheads and piers. Swimmers and surfers tend to stay away from those areas, she said.
She said her company’s floaters in Gibraltar only protrude about 3 feet (1 meter) above the water line. Additional projects are planned or underway already in Portgual, Israel and Los Angeles, she said.
“It’s not like wind turbines that influence the scenery because they have to be very high,” she said.
Karabinchak acknowledged there could be some push-back from coastal residents who don’t want to look at or swim near such projects. But he said the environmental benefits of wave power should help overcome such opposition.
“I know the typical answer from the public is always ‘no,’” he said. “But this is important for the future.”
Marcus Lehmann, CEO of Berkeley, California-based CalWave Power Technologies, said his company’s products operate entirely under the water’s surface, which he called “a great advantage where offshore wind offers a challenge with the visual impact, especially with coastal communities and tourism and other concerns.”
Muhammed Hajj, director of the Davidson Laboratory at New Jersey’s Stevens Institute of Technology, said a handful of demonstration projects are already in the water off New Jersey, but none approached commercial scale.
Philipp Stratmann, CEO of Monroe, New Jersey-based Ocean Power Technologies, said his company has four offshore sites in New Jersey approved by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. He said he hopes the state will “invest in an ecosystem that can allow ocean technology to grow and thrive.”
Patty Cronheim, campaigns director for the New Jersey League of Conservation Voters, said wave energy is a reliable source of clean power.
“As a surfer, I can tell you the ocean is always moving, even on the flattest days,” she said. “It is a perpetual motion machine. The potential for wave energy is promising.”