March 15, 2015
By Tina Casey
You’ve heard of wind farms and solar farms, now here’s another reason why economic growth is decoupling from fossil fuels: wave farms. The Australian company Carnegie Wave Energy Limited has just announced that a three-unit array of its CETO 5 wave energy generators is now up and running at the Perth Wave Energy Project, located off Garden Island in Western Australia, making it the first operating wave project in the world to be composed of multiple, connected units.
Garden Island happens to be the home of HMAS Stirling, the largest naval base in Australia.The new wave energy farm will provide the base with a first-of-its-kind twofer: zero emission electricity from wave energy, and pressurized water for zero emission desalination. That’s a new one on us, so let’s take a look and see what’s going on there.
Before we get to the good stuff, we did mention that economic growth is becoming uncoupled from fossil fuels, and our source for that information is a new report from the International Energy Agency. Here’s the money quote:
Data from the International Energy Agency (IEA) indicate that global emissions of carbon dioxide from the energy sector stalled in 2014, marking the first time in 40 years in which there was a halt or reduction in emissions of the greenhouse gas that was not tied to an economic downturn.
So there’s that. Wave energy has yet to play a significant role in this new trend (assuming it’s a trend and not a one-0ff), but after a long period of R&D things are starting to cook.
Carnegie Wave Energy Limited, for example, has been working on its technology since 1999 before launching the Perth Project.
Of three CETO 5 units, two were already up and running earlier this year, and the third was just installed and switched on earlier this week. The eventual plan is to retrieve the first two units for inspection, but for the next month or so all three will operate in tandem.
Wave energy generators work by converting the mechanical up-and-down motion of waves into electricity.
We’re more familiar with buoy-type wave energy generators that float on the surface and tap into surfaces waves and swells. Wave Energy’s approach is different. Its fully submerged CETO 5 units tap into the less dramatic but more stable movement of subsurface waters.
The subsurface design insulates CETO 5 from storms, and it virtually eliminates the NIMBY factor since it is not visible from shore.
We’re also more familiar with wave energy designs that generate electricity offshore, then transmit it to shore by cable. The CETO 5 can do that, but it can also do something quite different. It can pump water onshore at high pressure. Some of the pressurized water goes to run a standard off-the-shelf turbine, and some goes to a desalination plant.
We’re excited about the desalination plant angle because conventional desalination plants run on a process called reverse osmosis, which requires water at high pressure. That typically involves a lot of energy, and engineers have been working diligently to devise processes that either use less energy, or use renewable energy — or something quite different.
The Perth Project is designed as demonstration project. This year Wave Energy engineers will be tracking the wave farm for its reliability in terms of both electricity generation and desalination. Environmental analyses are also part of the package.
If all goes well, you’re going to see a larger, commercial-scale version, CETO 6, hit the waves in a 3 MW (megawatt) wave farm expected to start construction in 2016.
Meanwhile, the US Navy is also looking to take advantage of its seaside locations to generate local renewable energy.
The Navy recently upgraded its wave energy test bed at Marine Corps Base Hawaii in Oahu, as part of a public-private R&D effort. Back in 2010 the base became home to the first ever grid-connected wave energy system in the US.
Last April the Energy Department announced another $10 million in funding opportunities for utility-scale wave energy developers to use the facility, and in November the Navy pumped $3 million for R&D into a buoy-type wave energy system from Columbia Power Technologies called StingRAY.
Speaking of Australia, last year Ocean Power has hooked up with Lockheed Martin foranother Australian wave energy project, which is expected to be the largest of its kind in the world.
If you’re surprised to see Lockheed pop up in the context of wave energy, the company better known for aircraft and US defense contracts, the company has been pivoting toward renewable energy in general, and ocean energy in particular.
Here’s the headline of the company’s page on wave and title energy: “The power plant of the future covers 71% of the planet.”
Lockheed isn’t the only US defense contractor taking up the clean energy mantle, and you’re going also going to see plenty more along those lines as the US military continues to invest more funds in renewable energy as well as energy efficiency, water conservation, waste reduction, and habitat preservation (yes, habitat preservation).
Image Credits: Top (screenshot), courtesy of Carnegie Wave Energy Limited; bottom, courtesy of Columbia Power Technologies.