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U.S. says ‘aloha’ to country’s first wave-generated electricity

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An innovative buoy creates electricity from the movement of waves off Hawaii's coast

Hawaii has always had something of an energy problem. Nearly 2,400 miles off the coast of California, the beach-ringed archipelago has gotten used to paying a premium for oil. Hawaiians have to ship in their fuel, resulting in the highest electricity costs in the country. But perhaps not for much longer.

This week, two massive energy-harvesting buoys floating in Kaneohe Bay were plugged into Oahu’s energy grid, bringing the country’s first wave-generated power online. The buoys work by converting the motion of the waves into power, much like a wind turbine generating energy from air currents.

Combined, the floating power generators will produce about 22 kilowatts of energy—enough to power 14 homes. But the real value is seeing how the buoys perform over time and in extreme conditions like storms.

The technology for wave-made power is roughly three decades behind advances in wind or solar sources, but the Hawaiian prototype is a big step forward. The U.S. government has invested about $334 million in wave energy over the past 10 years. One day, the United States could generate 20 to 28 percent of its energy from the ocean without endangering protected waters, according to Jose Zayas, a director at the U.S Department of Energy.

Hawaii has a legal mandate to get 100 percent of the state’s energy from renewable sources by 2045.