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Sierra magazine
Innovate | A New Wave of Energy

Brent Dehlsen grew up sailing a 48-foot Cheoy Lee ketch with his father off the coast of Santa Barbara, California. But if the conversation turns to the energy of ocean waves, don't expect him to get all misty-eyed. The scion of a successful renewable-energy family, he focuses on "the relentless pursuit of reducing the cost of energy."

In 1980, when Dehlsen was 14, his father, Jim, founded Zond Corporation, which became one of the world's largest makers of wind turbines. Brent's first job was "turning wrenches" in the field. In 1997, part of the company was sold to a little outfit called Enron, and when Enron went bankrupt, Zond ended up in the hands of General Electric, which used the Dehlsen design to become America's leading turbine manufacturer.

Dehlsen, now 44, is CEO of Ecomerit Technologies, a family spin-off. He hopes to produce renewable wave energy at a price of no more than 10 cents per kilowatt-hour. At that magic threshold, his spreadsheets tell him, his projects can compete with fossil fuels.

Examining wave power through the unforgiving prism of cost has led Ecomerit to some intriguing designs, like the Centipod, a 650-foot-long lattice with 56 point absorbers (similar to the PowerBuoy, shown above) along its perimeter.

By keeping all the generators on a single platform rather than spreading them across open water in a "wave farm," the Centipod is stable, an asset when it comes to what Dehlsen dryly calls "the survivability of extreme load events"—what we would call winter storms or monster waves. Reducing the mysteries of the ocean to a set of equations may seem dull, but it gets us that much closer to delivering clean kilowatts to coastal cities—without impinging on Dehlsen's daily sail. —David Ferris

Infographic: Brian Kaas; photo: courtesy of Clipper Windpower

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