Ocean Wave Energy Company (OWECO)
OWECO Ocean Wave Energy Company develops the OWEC(r) Ocean Wave Energy Converter. Intended to have rugged reliability, low maintenance, and low true cost, self stabilized module arrays can generate high electrical efficiency from water wave fields, www.owec.com
Walk ten cents one mile, down the wooded hill path, and return with paper bag containing nine penny candies or four and a nickel chocolate bar. 1960’s youngster scruples forbade throwing down even a single 'Atomic Fireball” wrapper. The shiny plastic was alien to nature. Unaware of persistent local influences descended from whaling industry roots, every time going the longer Shore Road past beach and hillside free-flowing cold spring water pipe, mind wondered why a petroleum distribution terminal existed at such beautiful harbor spot. Fifty years later, large storage tanks were removed, soil remediated, and a beach park is established. Yet childhoods’ Xiphosura horseshoe crab armies did not return. Harbor head laboratory visits, where the double helix shape of DNA was uncovered, frequently appeased playgroup or lone curiosity about shoreside biology. BC “Before Computer” captivations, as “Power Fuel Pellets”, marginally propelled neutrally buoyant 'Power Sub” toy submarines. Tub and pond ripples rocked battery powered boat models. 'Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots” pawl, ratchet, and extended rack head pop determined the loser. 'Tip-It” games instructed offset loads balancing. A book-writing grandfather, directly above, endured basement reciprocating pogo stick springy noise and whirring workbench grinding wheel. Slow and faster handle rotation through gearing induced high wheel velocity. Letting go or turning handle the opposite direction disengaged a clutch so continuing wheel rotation- a “flywheel effect” more momentous than turning upside-down bicycle chain wheel pedals. Science class impressed dissections, magnets, motor kits, and structural failure movies: From 1937, “Oh, the humanity” as diesel and hydrogen combustion eviscerated the Hindenburg airship and the 1940 Tacoma Narrows bridge over-resonation.
Ripples of water wave familiarity imbibed swimming, standing on submerged horizontal kick-boards then observing their shimmying ascent to hydroface (water hydrogen/oxygen - air oxygen interface), and tiny plastic boat mucking about in pond water while mesmerized by friendly Terrapene box turtle buoyancy control. Early wave encounters accompanied running on rocking finger piers, sailing in beamy Woodpussy or cutting Blue Jay, rafted-up relative motions, skiing along chop waters, and small power boat wave surfing to save petroleum. At the gas dock, occasional drippings dispersed spellbinding kaleidoscopic water colors and attractive foul smells that felt innately wrong- like candy wrapper litter. Way forward in the bow of an Atlantic sailboat, where isolated from grandfather’s frantic racing crew, slamming shook and rolled below deck. There, like a carnival ride, young bones gleefully absorbed heaving fiberglass hull impacts. Hydroface rocked leaky dinghies adrift and reciprocating hand pumps were essential equipment. Wave powered versions were pondered and, decades later, used at mooring for expelling water from a tired Beetlecat wood sailboat.
Contrasting idyllic experience, on the train or auto jammed ride between New York City, nature’s colorful spectrum transformed from vivid carbon sunsets to shades of brown and gray. Family formality required wearing dark suits but there was refusal to don business hat. Later comprehended, natty style cloaked descending industrial pollutants. Daily radio smog alerts issued in addition to traffic gridlock, war dead, and heroin overdose reports. The City since transformed as most manufacturing dispersed to outlying regions and countries. Still, why? A grandmother regularly discussed impending environmental problems. Motivated by the 1969 Santa Barbara, California oil spill, we friends cleaned more than roads during first Earth Day, 1970. “The Last Whole Earth Catalogue” 1971 edition coalesced philosophies, methods, and materials for off-grid living including geodesic domes, passive solar buildings, and Darius “eggbeater” rotor, vertical axis wind turbines. Renewable energy notions gained traction, during the 1973 oil crisis, but application was discouraged by high end architecture employers. Living in Hawaii, 1976, turbulent effects of immense North Shore breakers imprinted lasting impressions as they slammed this thrilled, bad, bodysurfer’s cognition in sand. Offshore, by diving down just in time, monsters’ brunt passed overhead.
With sketchbook and R. Buckminster Fuller’s “Synergetics” opus always at hand, 1978, influential lessons applied to 20 year old architecture student developing interests in kinematic constructions. RISD Rhode Island School of Design architecture and structural engineering Professor Wilbur Yoder initiated cooperative effort with URI-OE University of Rhode Island-Ocean Engineering Professor Tadeusz Kowalski and students. The 'Ocean Habitat' studio focused on designing living and research structures at shore, in submerged environs, or about hydroface in deeper ocean. Perceived was need for developing local power. Beyond basic physical considerations and examples of ocean industry, Professors Yoder and Kowalski described minerals mining, minimal state-of-the-art efforts in the nascent marine renewable energy field, and possible hydrogen production from seawater.
Persistently trying to break from 45°/45°/90° static block building archetypes, the ocean realm invited heavy use of 30°/60°/90° drafting triangles to explore circle-sphere based geometries. Reduced gravity induces radial growth patterns, from “seed”, prevailing nature’s creations in the water world. Sphere encloses most volume with least surface area. Tetrahedron, comprising four edge-connected equilateral triangles, encloses least volume with most surface area. Paired hydrogen-oxygen water molecules themselves simply portray as electron-sharing tetrahedrons. Closest packed paired molecules can be interpreted to resemble layers of tetrahedrons and nodal octahedrons. Sketches explored floating wind converters. Now steady stronger winds invite offshore floating mono-towers supporting large diameter rotors, powerhouse quarters, and electric transfer to seafloor substation export cables. Spread farm arrays reduce wake effect. Four basic stabilizer types connect tall towers to seafloor anchors: 3-way slack moored barge; taut moored tower offset tripod semi-submersible; spar; or 3-way tension leg platform. Offset tripod type is becoming standard during 2020’s. Vertically buoyant or wide floating structures are of increasing proportions to counterbalance large rotor overturning moments and waves. Upper limit crosses when support structure costs more than generation equipment. Rotor sweep, wind wake, vibration, and noise are among measurable impacts to avian, mammalian, pelagic, and benthopelagic species. Dual-use, more squat designs incorporate marine current flow converters. Active solar energy systems were nascent and remain inappropriate for utility-scale deployment at deeper ocean sites.
Self-organizing building constructions were also explored. Arranged in shapes resembling octopus, photosynthetically activated research spheres would interconnect with organic materials, bio-mimicking muscle tissue, that electrochemically contract or expand for bottom walking or to situate spheres at various depths and heights of research interest. Though technologically unavailable, in 1978, further exploration disclosed water waves nature. Layperson books “Waves and Beaches”, by Willard Bascom, and “Oceanography- Second Edition”, by Dr. M. Grant Gross, simply explain water and ocean processes. One basic diagram, showing attenuation of water particle orbital motions correspondent to depth, recalled Hawaii bodysurfing memories. In architectural sense, less perturbed water column regions are compelling “foundational reference” working element relative to surface wave-activated bodies. Concepts of modularity, neutral buoyancy, and sea anchorage embellished a technological approach to wave energy conversion. Simple beginnings rendered preliminary design drawings of the first thus termed OWEC® 'Ocean Wave Energy Converter'.
In 1831, Michael Faraday first demonstrated electricity by passing magnets through a tube of copper wire coils. Fundamental demonstration of electrical generation design concepts for simplest wave energy conversion methods arrived at self-referencing modular networks of such LEG linear electrical generator types. The wave-driven LEG comprises buoy and shaft carrying several closely spaced permanent magnets. With like poles facing, North to North and South to South, magnetic forces influence stator of counter-wound wire coils wrapped in tubes near around magnets. As described in the OWECO Newsletter timeline, table tennis ball, rod, tube, and plate sketch models were first tested in water filled wastebaskets and at Rhode Island’s Narragansett Bay side. Water ripples raised and lowered the ball floats and rods while the sea anchored plate kept submerged tubes relatively stationary. Energy conversion result, coinciding with attendance at an intensive three day Buckminster Fuller seminar, prodded notions of career change from architecture. Within two weeks of OWEC® inception, adverse effects of petroleum combustion caused a seminar attendee friend's death and inventor’s coma. During recovery, a special study program permitted focused OWEC® technology development, through the 1979 Oil Crisis, leading to on-time graduation and U.S. Patent 4,232,230 issuance in 1980. Quest is to formulate non-polluting electrical generation means, devoid of carbon monoxide toxins, that produce fresh water, oxygen, and large storages of hydrogen gas for transportation, grid balancing, and standalone applications.