Annette von Jouanne and the Ocean Sentinel

In 1998 Annette von Jouanne had a vision to make Oregon a leader in wave energy technology which included a national wave center and a testing site for wave energy converters. In August this year the vision became reality when one of the world’s first mobile public testing berths for wave energy, the Ocean Sentinel, was deployed off the coast of Oregon near Newport.

“We have a tremendous resource off the Oregon coast, and we also have the facilities at OSU, the people, and the utility infrastructure to put that power onto the grid. This is the sweet spot to develop wave energy. Then it was a lot of blood, sweat and tears to get to where we are now,” she said.

The Ocean Sentinel, just deployed, with the buoy in the foreground. The Ocean Sentinel, just deployed, collecting data from the wave measurement buoy.

In 2004, she went in front of the House Science Committee to plead the case for the national wave center.

“I told them that if we want to be the manufacturers of wave technologies — to be able to export rather than import — we need to start investing federal dollars now,” she said.

Four years later the U.S. Department of Energy received funding for a national center awarded to Oregon State University and the University of Washington for the Northwest National Marine Renewable Energy Center (NNMREC).

Thus, bringing wave energy technology to the Pacific Northwest became the mission of many. In addition to the efforts of NNMREC, it took the support of industries, utility companies, the Oregon congressional delegation and the ocean community to make it happen. Additional funding came from the State of Oregon, the National Science Foundation, the Oregon Sea Grant, the U.S. Department of Energy, and the Oregon Wave Energy Trust.

“The Oregon way is collaboration, collaboration, collaboration, and that's what it has taken to get where we are,” von Jouanne said.

She had many discussions with the ocean community that brought about a significant change in the plans for testing the viability of wave energy technology. Due to concerns of her proposed cable-to-shore testing facility before successful demonstration of testing, she instead proposed a mobile testing berth that can be removed once testing is complete, and redeployed when a new device is ready to test.

The Ocean Sentinel at sea. The Ocean Sentinal at sea.

“I wanted to figure out how we could do this in a way to alleviate their concerns, but still help wave energy move forward, and help the communities become more sustainable,” she said.

The Ocean Sentinel began its first test this August. Moored in the ocean, the six-meter unmanned NOMAD hull looks like a small boat. An “umbilical” cable connects the Sentinel to a buoy that bobs up and down, capturing the energy of the waves. The buoy is a wave energy converter (WEC) that sends power back to the Sentinel’s load banks that consume power to simulate the grid. A separate directional wave measurement buoy sends data about currents, wave magnitude, wave periods and wave direction back to the Sentinel to be correlated with the performance of the WEC under test.

Both private industries and academic researchers can use the new testing facility. It is a significant step in von Jouanne’s goal to help wave energy developers accelerate their push to full-scale commercialization, to learn more about how to best optimize the devices, to assess the environmental impact and gain community acceptance.

“I’m so thankful to everyone who has supported the effort. It’s really taken a team of people who are forward looking and who understand the importance of having fuel-free, renewable energy sources, so that we can have a sustainable energy future,” she said.