Date of Award


Degree Name

MS in Engineering


Biomedical and General Engineering


Robert S. Crockett


California is experiencing a rapid increase in interest for the potential of converting ocean waves into clean electricity. Numerous applications have been submitted for the permitting of such renewable energy projects; however the profitability, practicability, and survivability have yet to be proven. Wave energy conversion technology has steadily matured since its naissance in the 1970’s, several wave energy power installations currently exist, and numerous plans for commercial power plant are in the works on the shores of multiple continents. This study aims to assess the economic viability of two proposed commercial wave energy power plant projects on the Central California Coast. A theoretical 25 MW capacity wave energy plant located at a site five nautical miles off of Point Arguello, in Santa Barbara County is compared to a site five nautical miles off of Morro Bay, in the County of San Luis Obispo. The Pacific Gas and Electric Company and Green Wave Energy Solutions, LLC have proposed full-scale commercial wave power plants at these sites, and are currently undergoing the federal permitting processes. Historical wave resource statistics from 1980 to 2001 are analyzed with performance specifications for the AquaBuOY, Pelamis P1, and WaveDragon wave energy converters (WECs) to calculate the annual electrical output of each device at each site. Sophisticated computer modeling of the bathymetric influence on the wave resource at each site is presented using the program Simulating Waves Nearshore (SWAN) developed by the Delft University of Technology. The wave energy flux, significant wave height, and peak period are computed at each site for typical summer and winter swell cases, using seafloor depth measurements at a 90 meter rectangular grid resolution. The economic viability of commercial electricity generation is evaluated for each WEC at each site by the calculation of the net present value of an estimated 25-year project life-cycle, the internal rate of return, and the required cost of electricity for a 10-year project simple payback period. The lowest required price of electricity is $0.13/kWh and occurs at the Point Arguello site using the AquaBuOY WEC. The highest annual capacity factor is 18% using the Pelamis WEC. The net present value and internal rate of return calculations suggest that the AquaBuOY WEC is profitable at both sites for electricity prices above $0.14/kWh. Shallow water wave propagation SWAN modeling demonstrated favorable wave energy flux states for WEC operation and power generation at both sites, with typical winter energy fluxes of 30-37 kW/m.