Updated March 23 at 12:28am

Five Questions With: Doug Gemme

An ocean engineer at Electro Standards Laboratory talks to Providence Business News about ESL’s wave energy harvesting buoys and the future of using waves as an alternative energy source.

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Five Questions With: Doug Gemme


Doug Gemme is an ocean engineer at Electro Standards Laboratory, based in Cranston.

Through research with URI, ESL has developed a system that powers ocean monitoring buoys by harvesting the energy of ocean waves, rather than with batteries or solar panels. The company co-exhibited its new system with JSR Micro, of Sunnyvale, Calif., at the 2013 Energy Ocean International Conference in Warwick in June.

Gemme spoke to Providence Business News about the new technology and where wave energy harvesting might go next.

PBN: How can wave harvesting technology improve these ocean sensors previously powered by batteries?

GEMME:As opposed to batteries, which have a limited supply of energy and must be replaced on a routine basis, waves are a continuous renewable source of energy. The ability to harvest usable power from the ocean will reduce or even eliminate the need to replace batteries on ocean sensor buoys, which is often very costly and inconvenient.

PBN: Has the limited power supply caused problems in ocean monitoring in the past?

GEMMEThe main issue with batteries is the hassle and cost associated with routine replacement. Currently, solar power is being used to extend the lifetime of the batteries and reduce the number of maintenance trips. Instances of theft and vandalism of solar panels, as well as issues with fouling and darkness make solar energy harvesting less attractive than the reliable source of energy from ocean waves.

PBN: Are there other applications for wave energy harvesting, on ships or in coastal areas?

GEMME:There are numerous devices currently under development all over the world, with the aim of harvesting large amounts of power for grid connection applications. Similar to wind farms, farms of wave energy harvesting buoys could be used in certain areas. Other types of systems are designed to be close to shore. The size of systems that can generate the large amount of power for these applications and the obstacle of getting the power from the ocean to land has led Electro Standards Laboratories to focus on the vast market of ocean sensors and instrumentation.

PBN: How has new technology changed how we power things in the last 10 years?

GEMME:With the cost, both monetary and environmentally, of using non-renewable sources of energy, it was necessary to come up with new solutions. The push to “go green” has changed the way things are done. There’s still a lot of work to do, but in order to keep up with the increasing demand for power, we’re going to need to be creative.

PBN:Where do you see new energy technology going in the next decade?

GEMMEOver the next decade, with the advancement of green technologies and the use of renewable energy, the unit cost of green power will go down. As long as funding for research and development for these technologies continues, we will be able rely less on fossil fuels and environmentally unfriendly practices to produce power. Dr. Raymond Sepe, Jr., vice president of Research & Development, is directing the company’s programs towards establishing ESL as a world leader of ocean harvesting buoy technology.


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