Maritime surveillance and monitoring systems that require remote power at sea often rely on diesel generators that need frequent maintenance and fuel replenishment. Now New Jersey-based wave energy company Ocean Power Technologies (OPT) has commenced sea trials of an autonomous wave energy device that provides clean energy for sea-based radar and communications systems in remote ocean locations and in all wave conditions.

The autonomous PowerBuoy was designed and manufactured by OPT under the U.S. Navy's Littoral Expeditionary Autonomous PowerBuoy (LEAP) program for coastal security and maritime surveillance. Like the company's existing PowerBuoy offerings, the autonomous PowerBuoy generates electricity via a piston-like structure located below the surface of the water that rises and falls as the PowerBuoy bobs up and down with the waves to drive a generator. For the sea trial, the PowerBuoy has been fitted with radar network and communications technology from Rutgers University's Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences in partnership with CODAR Ocean Sensors.

Designed for maritime surveillance in the near coast, harbors and beach zones, the PowerBuoy provides power at the lower levels needed for the vessel detection and tracking systems and includes power management and energy storage capabilities that ensure operation in extended periods of zero wave activity. The system has also been designed to remain maintenance-free for three years.

"Today's news marks the deployment of our first grid-independent, autonomous PowerBuoy for the LEAP program and is an exciting step forward for our product line focused on remote ocean applications," said Charles F. Dunleavy, Chief Executive Officer of OPT. "Our innovative autonomous PowerBuoy technology enables continuous operation of the sensors and communications equipment at sea for the US Navy, providing consistent, mission-critical power."

The autonomous PowerBuoy was deployed on August 11, 2011 by a U.S. Coast Guard vessel approximately 20 miles off the coast of New Jersey. The ocean testing will see it being integrated with the Rutgers University-operated, land-based radar network that provides ocean current mapping data for the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and U.S. Coast Guard search and rescue operations.

In September 2010, OPT completed the first-ever grid connection of a wave energy device in the U.S. by connecting a PowerBuoy to the grid at the Marine Corps Base Hawaii (MCBH). The connection was designed to demonstrate the ability of the PowerBuoy system to produce utility-grade, renewable energy that can be transmitted to the grid in a manner fully compliant with national and international standards. This month, the system completed 5.6 million cycles of operation.