One area of renewable energy which is still in an infancy stage is wave power. This form of clean energy, which harnesses the ever present motion of waves to generate power, is said to have the potential globally to generate between 2 and 4 trillion kilowatt hours per year, meeting about 10% of the worldwide energy demand.
One cleantech start up looking to cash in on this form of renewable energy is Columbia Power Technologies. The company, which “is engaged in the development and commercialization of wave energy harvesting devices using novel, off-shore, direct-drive permanent-magnet generator topologies,” has garnered some attention of late because of its technologies. This has resulted in being a semi-finalist in the Pacific Northwest region of the Cleantech Open and looking like it has scored itself some new investors. To find out more about what this company is up to, we recently conducted an email interview with Reenst Lesemann, Columbia Power’s vice president of business development.
EarthTechling (ET): Give us a little background about Columbia Power Technologies. How did it become to be involved in wave power?
Reenst Lesemann: Columbia was started by an entrepreneur, Sandy Reisky, who was deeply involved in the renewable energy business. He formed the company in 2005 to commercialize a wave energy technology then being developed at Oregon State University. OSU is the federal wave energy research lab on the west coast and is really the center of gravity for it in the US so the appeal of working with the school was quite strong. The original technology was what’s called a linear point absorber. That’s a fancy term for a floating device (think buoy) that extracts energy from either the heave (vertical) or surge (forward) forces within a wave.
About two years ago, the R&D team figured out a unique and incredibly exciting way to extract energy from both the heave and surge, which potentially doubles the energy capture versus the linear approach. Since then, we’ve been focused on bringing that technology to market.
ET: What advantages are seen of wave power over other forms of renewable energy?
Lesemann: The biggest advantage of wave energy is its ability to look and act like base load power. In fact, I’ve heard utilities refer to it as variable base-load. Because waves are consistent, reliable and predictable, the energy production from a wave farm can be scheduled and that schedule can be depended upon. That’s key. And while there is obviously some seasonality, wave energy tends to be more load-matched.
This means that when the most energy is coming towards shore, utilities are facing high relative demand. Another important advantage is location. Around 40% of the world’s population lives within 100km of the coast. In the developed world, this means that grid infrastructure is already present. The coastal grid isn’t always ready to handle the new input, but upgrades are certainly less complex and costly than greenfield transmission runs.