Ocean Energy ‘Penguin’ Ready To Ride The Waves

Ocean lovers, from fishermen to surfers, have long known the power of waves. Now electricity companies are also beginning to take notice.

The Finnish renewable technology company Wello announced at the end of February that it had successfully created a wave energy converter that had passed screening tests and was ready for full-scale deployment. The first 0.5 megawatt (MW) device, called Penguin, will be plugged in at the European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC) that already hosts various underwater and ocean energy devices in Orkney, an archipelago of islands north of Scotland.

image via Wello

The device passed extensive testing and environmental impact studies over the last few years, Wello said. The 220-ton shiplike vessel is approximately 30 meters long and is held in place by three wires anchored to the seabed below. As it sits in the ocean riding the waves and capturing kinetic energy—the power of motion—for energy production, only about 2 meters of the Penguin is visible above the surface of the water.

According to Wello, the device may have a longer lifespan than most wind turbines while producing power with the same ease and consistency. Wave energy is in fact one of the more reliable power sources among the renewables because it can operate fairly consistently. Through rain and shine, the ocean is almost always in motion. There are of course moments of stillness, but they are easily compensated in the long run by stormy weather conditions that produce giant waves.

But wave power also faces some of the same challenges that wind power, and particularly offshore wind power, faces. Wave power can do little if it isn’t connected to the grid, but transmission lines that reach all the way into the ocean are difficult and costly to build. And power companies won’t build the lines until there is a significant financial incentive in producing power from the ocean. So developers first need to build very good, cheap devices that can produce significant numbers of megawatts before power companies will take wave energy seriously. One Penguin device produces a sixth of the power a typical 3 MW wind turbine can produce, and only a quarter of the power of a smaller 2 MW turbine.

Among some of the first approved wave energy devices, the Penguin’s success or failure will help determine if wave energy catches on. There was a time when wind and solar power probably seemed like far-fetched dreams. Will wave power be a household term in a decade? And what will that mean for fish and underwater ecosystems? What will that mean for ocean lovers who bask in the wide open undisturbed sea? As companies slowly test the devices, the costs may or may not prove to outweigh the benefits. But boasting zero emissions and a never-ending source of free fuel, ocean power may be more successful than anyone could have ever imaged.

Shifra Mincer is a freelance journalist and passionate tweeter (@Shiframincer) currently living in Israel. Before moving to Israel to apprentice with a homebirth midwife, Shifra worked as Associate Editor of AOL Energy, and was a member of the launch team that got the site up and running. Shifra has over a half a decade of experience in journalism and has written on women's health, green technology, politics and regulation of the energy industry, energy financial news, and local news. While studying for her B.A. at Harvard College, Shifra worked as a news editor for the Harvard Crimson. Shifra is also a yoga teacher and a birth doula and is hoping to create an active Jewish birth community through her web venture www.layda.org.

1 Comment

  • Reply March 16, 2012

    Mike Straub

    Always exciting to see people realizing the power waiting to be tapped within the oceans, not just drilling below it.  Also take a look at Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion, it creates base-load, emission free power, from the temperature difference in shallow and deep ocean water.  And the only byproduct is clean drinking water.  So far the Bahamas is leading the way in growing OTEC on a commercial scale, but other countries are taking notice, and realizing a key part of energy independence, and a cleaner energy future, lies in native oceans.

    Lots more news and info at The On Project.

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