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Thursday, January 17, 2013

Will Rhode Island ride the wave?

By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI.org News staff
WARWICK — The renewable energy conference canceled by Hurricane Sandy in October returned this week to help prevent future climate change-induced storms.

The Jan. 10 Marine Renewable Energy Technical Conference at the Crowne Plaza reached an audience of scientists immersed in the emerging research of wave energy, offshore wind power and underwater tidal energy.

The technology is still deep in the research stage. Many of the devises and date discussed at the conference focused on methods for measuring the sizable energy from oceans and rivers. Federal grants have supported this research, helping broaden programs at the University of Rhode Island, University of New Hampshire and the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth.
URI presented research on wave energy harvesting through "absorber" buoys.

John Miller, the director of the conference, said wave and tidal technology is getting closer to commercial applications. As a renewable energy, offshore wind and wave energy can provide a constant energy supply that solar and onshore wind lack, he said. The Northeast doesn’t have the same wave force as other regions, he added, but there is still energy to harness.

Offshore areas that are closed to fishing would be well suited for this technology. “We just have to develop technologies that work here,” Miller said.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., opened the conference by speaking of the “grave anxiety” from scientists about unprecedented levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and increasing ocean acidity. The damage to ocean reefs around the world has been devastating, he said. Carbon emissions, the main contributor to climate change, recently registered above 400 parts per million in the Arctic, Whitehouse noted.

“The work you are doing here is very important,” he said. “The stakes are very, very high.”