Ocean energy could generate large amounts of electricity for Australia
Australia, and in particular the southern coastline, is very well suited for ocean energy. Much of the southern coastline experiences significant wave heights of over 3 ft. (1 meter) virtually all of the time, providing a potentially endless source of energy. In addition, the wave power, or the rate of delivery of wave energy, is in the range of 25–35kW/m in many places, providing the potential for generating large amounts of electricity. Being an island country, the vast majority of the population also lives near the coast, making power transmission from offshore sources simpler and cheaper.
Three of the leading Australian companies in the field were represented at the All-Energy Australia 2011 Conference in Melbourne. Click on the tabs above to find out more about each of them.
A marriage of technology
Generating energy offshore presents a special set of challenges. It is a tough environment with massive, corrosive forces, leading to survivability issues and high maintenance costs. So why not team up and meet the challenge together? That is what the Australian ocean energy company AquaGen is planning to do. To find out more, here what AquaGen’s CEO Nick Boyd had to say at the All-Energy Australia 2011 Conference in Melbourne.
Company CEO, Nick Boyd, has a Bachelor of Aerospace engineering with honors and has worked in numerous fields during the past 20 years, including offshore oil and gas, aerospace and other high-tech fields of engineering. He is the company founder and inventor of the company’s SurgeDrive system.
This morning we heard you talk about the possibility of combining wind and wave power. Is that on your agenda?
Nick Boyd: It is an interesting possibility for us, because our technology marries up well with wind, as our system gets the wave energy out of the water and up to a platform. So why not put some wind turbines on there? You have got to try and think outside of the box to make things work and sometimes that is a marriage of technology.
More energy more of the time
Wave and wind on the same offshore platform could deliver a more constant source of power generation and avoid problems with fluctuating energy sources by bringing the supply closer to the base load. This would result in more energy more of the time.
Are there other reasons for doing this?
Nick Boyd: What you have to remember is that sometimes when you have wind there are no waves and sometimes when you have waves there is no wind. The big energy waves are developed hundreds or even thousands of kilometers away and then they come in and by the time they reach the shore, sometimes there can be no wind blowing at all. Or, there can be enough wind locally to turn the turbine blades but only wind chop on the water, which does not have much energy.
Wind going offshore
In many places wind energy is going offshore, partly due to the possibility of building larger turbines, but also due to a more consistent wind resource. Other factors include planning restrictions and associated land and building costs for onshore wind energy, as well as environmental factors.
What about costs, would you be able to share them?
Nick Boyd: Yes, both infrastructure costs and energy delivery costs. With our solution, wind developers would also benefit from lower maintenance.
Could it happen in the near future?
Nick Boyd: Yes, it could well happen. For example, we have an agreement signed with a group in Asia. They need offshore renewable energy, wind or wave or whatever, because the place is so populated and buying up land is very expensive.
Is there a sufficient wave resource generally in Asia?
Nick Boyd: Well, off the cuff you would think that there is not a huge resource in Asia – but actually there is a Monsoonal season where they get fairly big waves. Otherwise there is a fairly consistent but not high wave resource. But what becomes interesting is suggesting to them that we can partner-up with wind, so they get the best of both worlds and therefore a good return on their investment. Then the whole thing becomes viable.
Could it also be viable in other areas?
Nick Boyd: Absolutely, in Europe for example, even in the Mediterranean you could have a project where you team up with wind so that a lower wave resource becomes viable. You might even have a location where you could also have a tidal system and use the same cable to share infrastructure. If there is a mutual benefit and the technologies are suited - then why not do it?
Our technology marries up well with wind, as our system gets the wave energy out of the water and up to a platform. So why not put some wind turbines on there?
Nick Boyd, CEO, AquaGen
AquaGen is an Australian technology company specializing in solutions to deliver clean, renewable ocean energy using their SurgeDrive® wave energy technology.
The company recently won the EcoGen award for ‘Most Outstanding Small-Scale Clean Energy Project’.
As waves pass the buoyancy units of a SurgeDrive® wave farm, they move in oscillation and the system transfers the pure wave forces out of the water, via tension transfer elements. This minimizes the underwater components, allowing most components to be placed above water, which also reduces costs and maintenance needs.
When it comes to survivability, not only is the system is equipped to survive storms, it can also exploit the huge amounts of energy contained in them. The buoy can be retracted underwater, where the system can continue to generate power in a safer environment during the storm.
Oceanlinx ready with mature ocean technology
Oceanlinx is an Australian company founded in 1997 by Tom Denniss with headquarters in Sydney. The company’s technology has been developed in Australia and has already been deployed in a full-scale version. Company founder and inventor of the technology Dr. Tom Denniss tells us more.
Could you briefly tell us a little about yourself and your background for getting involved in ocean energy?
Dr. Tom Denniss: I am the founder of Oceanlinx and original inventor of the technology, although many others have contributed since. I have been involved in wave energy since 1990, and I am also the Australian Government’s representative on the Executive Committee of the International Energy Agency’s Ocean Energy Systems Implementing Agreement.
Oceanlinx employs an Oscillating Water Column (OWC) technology. As a wave rises within the column structure, it replicates the action of a piston, driving a column of air ahead of it and past the turbine. Then, as the wave recedes, the opposite effect sucks air back into the column and past the turbine. Oceanlinx employs its own version of an OWC, with no underwater moving parts for increased survivability. Further, the company’s airwave turbine is specially designed to provide higher conversion efficiency than other comparable turbines.
The Oceanlinx technology is already competitive with other renewable energy sources. In good wave climates, such as Southern Australia, our technology is competitive with on-shore wind, and lower cost than offshore wind and solar.
Tom Denniss, Oceanlinx company founder
How competitive are Oceanlinx with other renewable energy?
Dr. Tom Denniss: The Oceanlinx technology is already competitive with other renewable energy sources. In good wave climates, such as Southern Australia, our technology is competitive with on-shore wind, and lower cost than offshore wind and solar.
Oceanlinx has already passed a number of milestones. It is the first ocean energy company in Australia to have a wave energy converter grid connected. In fact, it is one of only three companies in the whole world to have done this. In addition, the technology has racked up a total of 40,000 hours of operational experience and 5,000 hours of electricity generation.
When do you expect to have a fully commercial wave farm in place?
Dr. Tom Denniss: Our next project will be commercial, particularly once it is expanded to multiple units. We expect it to be operational by early 2013. It will be a showcase of how commercially viable the technology has become.
Are there other locations with a wave climate that matches your technology especially well?
Dr. Tom Denniss: Apart from Southern Australia, which is ideal, there are many other places around the world that are well suited too - Western Europe, Chile, South Africa, the US Pacific north-west and others.
Biomimicry makes sure the system is always in tune with the waves
BioPower Systems is one of Australia’s leading ocean energy companies. Their bioWAVETM technology is being prepared for a demonstration project at Port Fairy in Victoria. CEO Dr. Timothy Finnigan explains more.
What is your background for being involved in ocean energy?
Dr. Timothy Finnigan: My background is in ocean engineering, starting at university with environmental fluid mechanics and then, after my PhD, researching deep ocean tidal energy dissipation. After moving into the private sector, I have moved from the technical aspects into the business and commercial aspects of ocean energy development, but I always maintain a broad interest across all areas.
The company’s bioWAVETM technology is a bottom-mounted pitching device spanning the full depth of water. It is designed to operate in ocean swell waves, absorbing energy both at the surface and below. The array of buoyant floats, or “blades”, interacts with the rising and falling sea surface (potential energy) and the sub-surface back-and-forth water movement (kinetic energy). As a result, the pivoting structure sways back-and-forth in tune with the waves.
Biomimicry – always in tune with the waves
The motion of the blades and the nature-inspired design employs what is known as biomimicry, i.e. the mimicking of natural marine organisms. Its unique configuration sets the bioWAVETM apart from surface-based technologies (buoys, attenuators, and OWCs) that do not receive sub-surface energy and from shallow-water technologies that operate in regions of lower energy. This ensures maximum efficiency by extracting as much energy as possible from the complex motion of waves. It has the further advantage of having zero visual impact.
Does energy conversion present particular difficulties?
Dr. Timothy Finnigan: Ocean energy devices typically oscillate slowly in response to huge forces, and this presents a significant challenge in terms of harnessing the energy to produce electricity. Our technology not only gears up the motion, but also rectifies it and smoothes it, so that we can produce grid-ready electricity using a standard electric generator. With bioWAVETM farms along a lengthy stretch of coast, we believe near base load supply can be provided.
At present, the company is entering the crucial ocean trials stage. The second component in its technology, the O-DriveTM power conversion module, is also ready for trials. Together the two units have shown they can meet the particular challenge of converting ocean waves into grid-ready electricity.
When do you expect to have a fully commercial wave farm in place?
Dr. Timothy Finnigan: This depends heavily on government policy and private sector finance. We need supportive government schemes to ease the path to a commercial stage, and private finance to develop the first commercial wave farm. We certainly hope it can be achieved before 2020.
Do you expect to be competitive with other renewable energy such as offshore wind?
Dr. Timothy Finnigan: Yes, once we get beyond the ocean trails stage, possibly by the middle of this decade, then bioWAVETM will begin to compete with offshore, and even onshore, wind. Waves remain the most consistent and reliable form of renewable energy.
"Once we get beyond the ocean trails stage, possibly by the middle of this decade, then bioWAVETM will begin to compete with offshore, and even onshore, wind. Waves remain the most consistent and reliable form of renewable energy."
Timothy Finnigan, CEO, Biopower Systems