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Former UVic engineer advancing offshore renewables south of the border

Bryson Roberston sees a growing role for offshore wind and wave energy on the west coast
Bryson Robertson, a former UVic researcher, leads a team at Oregon State University that’s advancing offshore wind and wave energy. (Jake Romphf/News Staff)

While society has long looked backwards to learn from the past, Bryson Robertson argues that the past cannot represent the future.

“The way we’ve done things historically will not lead to a sustainable solution, climate change has changed that paradigm, we can no longer use the same tools that we used to use to generate power, to run our systems, to live sustainably on the planet,” the director of Oregon’s Pacific Marine Energy Centre said at the University of Victoria on July 25.

As demand grows for renewable energy, Robertson said there’s massive potential in the Pacific Northwest. That’s why he and other researchers south of the border are advancing wave energy and offshore wind.

“There’s a huge amount of energy in the ocean,” said the researcher, who was a senior engineer with a UVic project studying wave energy resources off Canada’s West Coast. “How to harness it is the challenge.”

Despite there being few suitable ports, transmission lines or readied supply chains, companies are putting billions toward bids on offshore wind contracts in the ocean off Oregon and California.

“They feel like this is coming fast enough that they’re willing to make that bet,” Robertson said.

Offshore wind, which is now focused around floating turbines, is dominating the discussion on the U.S. West Coast about new electricity capacity. Some still say it’s nascent technology but Robertson said costs are quickly dropping, the war in Ukraine is seeing the U.S. and beyond aggressively pursue alternative energy and floating facilities are well understood because of their use by the oil and gas industry.

While the province may not have the access to same capital as the U.S., offshore wind and wave power could present an opportunity to B.C. because of its many remote communities that often rely on diesel.

“These are places where the cost of power is incredibly high,” Robertson said. “There are these coast communities who need renewable power, who are somewhat energy impoverished because of the cost of power, so they can’t build a lot of economic growth.”

Wind and solar get a lot of attention as models show they’ll dominate energy needs in the coming decades, but Robertson points out that it’s also estimated 45 per cent of energy generation in 2050 will be from technology that’s still being developed.

Wave energy includes several different energy harnessing models, and while that can lead to criticism that it’s not mature enough, Robertson sees it as a positive because the generation type will be able to cater to different locations.

“It isn’t a sign of immaturity it’s a sign of different ways to tackle a problem.”

Oregon State University, where Robertson is currently based, has several advanced facilities that are moving wave technology forward. It’s also leading an initiative, called PacWave, which expects to have a full-scale test facility out in the ocean, with around 20 wave energy converters, operational by 2025.

Robertson highlighted how offshore wind and wave energy present diverse uses, including providing resilient power when disasters like wildfires impact land-based generation, creating power at sea for the blue economy or ocean monitoring and powering coastal communities.

He also pointed to reduced space for electricity generation as land use becomes stressed with all kinds of development – at a time when coastal areas are expected to absorb quickly growing populations.

“Everyone’s going to the coast and we can’t continue build things in remote places and central valleys where there are no transmission lines.”

READ: Likely no earthquake risk from storing CO2 under ocean off Vancouver Island

READ: $84M for UVic-led program looks to accelerate local energy transitions

Jake Romphf

About the Author: Jake Romphf

In early 2021, I made the move from the Great Lakes to Greater Victoria with the aim of experiencing more of the country I report on.
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