Courtesy Photo

Cal Poly Institute for Advanced Technology and Public Policy head Sam Blakeslee (middle) works with students on Cal Poly’s campus. The institute has been granted $750,000 by the U.S. Department of Energy to research the feasibility of a green energy research facility designed to test devices, which could one day be used to convert ocean wave energy into electricity.

Shaun Kahmann
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The race is on to see which state can prove it is the ideal testing ground for a new Department of Energy (DoE) initiative to harness the power of ocean waves to produce a green source of renewable energy, and Cal Poly has put California in the running.

Cal Poly’s Institute for Advanced Technology and Public Policy has been granted $750,000 by the DoE to research the feasibility of a green energy research facility designed to test devices, which could one day be used to convert ocean wave energy into electricity. Schools across the country competed for the grant, but Cal Poly and Oregon State came out on top.

The DoE awarded one-year contracts to both universities to determine which state could yield the most energy and have the most cost-effective site while being mindful of potential harm to the environment.

The selected state will receive a government contract of between $25 million and $50 million to build the actual facility.

“California is going to have to work hard to demonstrate that the quality of the wave energy here is ideal for research,” said Sam Blakeslee, a former state senator and founding director of the Cal Poly Institute for Advanced Technology and Public Policy. “Serious research will have to be done here to firm up that proposition.”

Faculty from the science and engineering colleges at Cal Poly will help the institute spearhead the feasibility research.

“We’re trying to put a multidisciplinary team of faculty members and students from across the different disciplines to put together a comprehensive project.” said Christine Robertson, associate director of the institute.

Cal Poly faculty members who are involved with the research will have unprecedented access to alpha phase, prototype wave generator technology if the facility gets built, which would place Cal Poly at the forefront of green technology research.

“We aren’t getting involved late in the game, we’re coming in at the very beginning,” Blakeslee said. “Which puts Cal Poly in a good place to stay involved for many years to come. Cal Poly could become a center of renewable energy research projects.”

Two sites, one in Santa Barbara and the other in Humboldt County, have been identified as the most likely to house the facility in California. In order to harness wave energy, a transmission line will have run from ocean to shore, one of the more challenging aspects of the project, according to Dale Dolan, professor and lead researcher with the institute.

“There’s going to need to be some grid connection between on land and the facility — that can be difficult,” Dolan said. “One of the advantages of … the Santa Barbara site is that it already has submarine distribution capabilities.”

Cal Poly’s research is expected to start early next year. Once it is complete, the DoE will make a decision on which state will get the ultimate contract.