Wave energy is a largely untapped resource of clean renewable energy globally, with a potential greater than the capacity of all the installed fossil fuel plants in Europe combined. Whiles waves are a predictable source of energy, and can make a valuable contribution to the commercial mix of renewable energy there are a number of obstacles that stand in the way of its potential.
From a technical point of view, operating in the ocean is far more challenging than on land. Building offshore wind installations, for instance, is normally more costly than constructing wind farms onshore. Added to this, saltwater is a hostile environment for devices since waves present numerous challenges for energy capturing. [Time to put wave energy back on the power map.] Creating an optimum design is a major challenge within itself.
George Hagerman, a research associate in the Virginia Tech University’s Advanced Research Institute, explains that cost issues, unreliable and inefficient designs, as well as wave energy itself can pose numerous challenges for development.
However, it would seem that a highly innovative technology called WaveRoller could open doors when it comes to the bankability of wave energy projects.
Innovative wave energy technology
Finnish marine energy firm AW-Energy has received a €10 million boost from the European Investment Bank (EIB) to help bring its novel WaveRoller technology to market.
The investment will be used to support and speed up the commercial rollout of its ocean-surge technology.
The firm's innovative near-shore device is located between eight and 20 metres below the water's surface and uses the horizontal, back-and-forth ocean waves present along coastlines to generate electricity – setting it apart from many other marine devices which generate energy from surface movements. Under development for almost a quarter century, the WaveRoller was inspired by a Finnish professional diver, Rauno Koivusaari, after he observed in 1993 how the power of the sea effortlessly rocked the hulk of a wrecked ship back and forth, similar to the technolofy used in the Perth Wave Energy Project.[First Grid-Connected Wave Energy Array Operates in Australia]
AW-Energy is set to install a full-scale 350kW version of the device near Peniche in Portugal next year, following the installation of three grid-connected 100kW demonstration units in the same area in 2012.
According to Chief Executive Officer John Liljelund , the solution is commercially mature and the machine has received a safety certificate from Lloyd’s Register, increasing its “bankability.”
Opening untapped clean energy
WaveRoller is the first project to be supported by the InnovFin Energy Demonstration Project (EDP) programme, a range of EIB Group products designed to widen access to finance for innovative businesses.
"I think it would be hard to underestimate the importance of these types of pilot projects, which can open up untapped sources of clean energy," said EIB vice president Jan Vapaavuori, who signed the deal in Brussels alongside AW-Energy chief executive John Liljelund and EU innovation commissioner Carlos Moedas.
"One of the goals of InnovFin is to support new technologies and the EIB is glad it can support this project through this instrument. The symbolic importance of a highly innovative Finnish company putting a project in place in Portugal makes this a truly European initiative," Vapaavuori added in a statement.
Liljelund said the funding is a milestone for the ocean industry as a whole, standing as it does on the brink of a commercial breakthrough. "As a constant and far more predictable form of renewable energy than wind and solar, wave energy will be a highly valuable addition to the global renewable energy mix," he said in a statement. "Bankable technology is the cornerstone when building a new industry."
AW Energy said it has so far identified commercial leads in six countries and has the potential objective of selling more than 50 units in the next four years.