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Hawaii's new wave power

New Jersey-based Ocean Power Technologies seeks to harness the mighty churn and swell of the seas for the U.S. Navy in Oahu.

On the surface, OPT's PowerBuoy resembles any ordinary ocean buoy. Ocean Power Technologies

Ocean Power Technologies announced Thursday that it will be installing a water-power buoy system to tie into Hawaii's Oahu Island power grid.

The New Jersey-based company makes ocean buoys that harness the energy of ocean waves to generate electricity that is then sent back to shore via underwater cable.

Through a partnership with the U.S. Navy, Ocean Power has been developing technology that could supplement electricity needs for the military in Hawaii .

"We are pleased to be a part of the Navy's effort to develop and commercialize new technologies to reduce the Navy's dependence on fuel shipments for power generation facilities, and to meet its strategic goals and other sustainability initiatives," George W. Taylor, Ocean Power's chief executive officer, said in a statement.

The company's PowerBuoy, which on the surface resembles an ordinary ocean buoy, is about 12 feet wide and 55 feet long. As the buoy is jostled by naturally occurring offshore waves, it moves a piston-like device located at its core up and down. The electricity generated by the system, which is typically placed in about 100 to 150 feet of water, is then sent back to shore via a standard submarine transmission cable along the ocean floor.

The water-power buoy is loaded with onboard sensors and communications tools that allow it to be monitored and instructed from Ocean Power's headquarters in New Jersey. But the device can autonomously adjust the way it pumps to accommodate changes in ocean waves and maximize its effect.

The U.S. Navy contributed $300,000 to funding this particular installation. But Ocean Power announced in early November that it has won a $3 million contract with the Navy to develop its PowerBuoy for use in conjunction with data gathering and communications.

Ocean Power also has the support of the U.S. Marine Corps. This latest PowerBuoy system will be placed about one mile off the coast of Marine Corps Base Hawaii (MCBH) at Kaneohe Bay and will be connected to Oahu's power grid.

This is the third PowerBuoy that Ocean Power has installed within the last two months.

The Navy and Marine support is a coup for Ocean Power, which struggled with its IPO, and perhaps even for the ocean energy industry as a whole.

Ocean energy proponents have been swimming against a current of lackluster interest because of logistical issues like infrastructure costs, and the unpredictable nature of the energy source.