Last month we reported on a Finnish company Wello that developed a a half-megawatt wave energy device called the Penguin. That device will be plugged in at the European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC) in Scotland’s Orkney Islands. Aiming for 100 percent renewable power by 2020, Scotland has been ramping up its wave and tidal power as well as its offshore wind energy. It currently has around one quarter of Europe’s tidal resources.
But the ocean power fever is catching on. Another Finnish company, AW-Energy, just announced it will be rolling out a new kind of device, bound for the waters of Portugal. Called the WaveRoller, the device is an ocean energy converter that specializes in operating in shallow waters, about 50 to 70 feet. AW-Energy has already deployed three of the pre-commercial devices (100 kilowatts each) to Peniche shipyard in Portgual as part the EU’s Surge project (Simple Underwater Production of Renewable Electricity), which was launched in 2009 and it set to fund real scale ocean energy demonstration projects through the end of this year.
This summer, once winter passes and the seas calm down, AW-Energy will deploy the next phase of its technology, larger 600-800 kW devices, in the same Almagreira beach region of Portugal.
The company claims that the device solves many of the traditional ocean energy problems because it is designed to function in close proximity to shore. The devices will be easily accessible for maintenance and closer for transmission lines. Installation and maintenance is therefore cheaper and more efficient. Here’s the system working, in an animation provided by the company:
Invented in 1993 by a Finnish professional diver, the device uses the horizontal motion of the ocean to move vertical wings that spin a turbine.
A key to the devices is their placement in what is known as the “surge zone,” near-shore areas were wave energy gathers and “the water movement becomes practically horizontal with a continuous back and forth motion,” the company says.
The devices are small compared to some offshore energy produces, like the wind turbines, capable of generating 5 MW of power or more apiece, that are being deployed in Northern Europe. That, plus the fact WaveRollers are limited to fairly shallow waters, make it difficult to see how the devices can grow to become a significant power sources.
It is also unclear whether the WaveRoller is more efficient than underwater tidal turbines being developed by companies like Kawasaki, which is deploying devices off the shores of Japan, or more effective at capturing wave power than the three-blade underwater semi-buouyant turbine developed by Tidal Generation, a subsidiary of Rolls-Royce.
And then there is the Hammerfest Strom HS1000, a 100-foot underwater turbine with a generating capacity of 1 MW, developed by Iberdrola—the parent company of ScottishPower Renewables (SPR)—Andritz Hydro and Statoil New Energy and currently being tested at the EMEC. The list goes on.
So will the tiny shallow water WaveRollers stand a chance? The relatively small devices might actually be attractive for some reasons of their own. Smaller devices mean less of an eyesore and could be of less harm to the ecosystem. Plus there’s that advantage of being near-to-shore, which the company insists is significant. And the company says where possible, numerous plates could be deployed together, scaling up the energy output significantly. So the WaveRollers might indeed have a role in the larger mix of renewable energy devices as countries like Scotland, Japan or Portugal that have long coastlines scramble to harness their abundant ocean power.