Tidal Power


Wave energy might go the way of Australia’s solar industry, writes Mathew Murphy.

LACK of government support for the fledgling wave energy industry is forcing Australian companies to increasingly invest overseas despite having the world’s best wave resource off our coastline. Several Australian wave energy proponents have started projects in such places as Hawaii, Central America and Ireland, saying Australia’s risk-averse tendency is holding back investment. While none has made the tough call to relocate just yet, and all those interviewed by BusinessDay are still hopeful of commercialising their technology in Australia, positive policy settings in other corners of the world are offering these companies the best opportunity to grow their businesses.

Clean energy advocates are concerned that wave energy could experience the same sort of brain drain that has hit the Australian solar industry over the past decade. David Mills took his solar thermal company, Ausra, to the US nearly a decade ago and last year hit a financial wall because of lack of funding. University of New South Wales researcher Zhengrong Shi was forced to take his business, SunTech, to China, creating one of the world’s biggest solar photovoltaic firms.

Australian-listed Dyesol, which makes photovoltaic cells, found greener pastures in Wales, successfully commercialising its power-generating steel panels, which it was unable to do in Australia. Ali Baghaei, the chief executive of Oceanlinx, said that while the federal government has been relatively supportive of more mature renewable energies such as wind power, its policy settings needed to support developing technologies in order to get the right mix of power generation.

“It is not about going cap in hand and begging for money for a lifetime”, he said. “There should be an amicable way where the government can support a new renewable technology for five or 10 years and then if they do achieve their targets and deliver what they said they would then they can stand on their own feet and won’t need any additional help”. Oceanlinx has been testing its technology, which uses the rise of waves to drive a column of air through a turbine, at Port Kembla in NSW, but also has interests in Victoria and King Island in Tasmania.

Mr Baghaei said he was keen to develop wave energy projects in Australia. “I haven’t given up all of my hopes yet of government support, either federal or state governments, but it is clearly a concern that we probably aren’t getting as much support as what is available outside Australia”, he said. “We are fortunate in that our technology is transferable and because of that we have subsidiaries in Hawaii and in Central America which have more advanced projects. There is no doubt we are behind countries like the US, UK and Portugal”.

Mike Ottaviano, the managing director of the Australian Securities Exchange-listed Carnegie Corporation Wave Energy, is pushing ahead with plans to establish a wave energy project at Garden Island, 50 kilometres from Perth. This has been achieved without support from the federal government. Despite Energy Minister Martin Ferguson launching the government’s $300 million Renewable Energy Demonstration Program at Carnegie Corporation’s pilot plant in April last year, the company missed out on funding, surprising the market and sending its share price from about
25.5¢ to its current level of about 9¢.

One of the four grants was awarded to US-based Ocean Power Technologies and Leighton Holdingss, which together won $66.5 million to construct a 19-MW wave farm near Portland, Victoria. A total of $65 million from the fund was not allocated. Dr Ottaviano said a lack of strategic insight into policy settings was hurting local wave companies. “If you look at Ireland as an example, you have a dedicated wave energy grant pool. You have a dedicated wave energy tariff. Your power is guaranteed for 15 years and you have a wave energy target.

So the combination of those policies is what gives investors confidence which is lacking here”, he said. “We certainly aren’t saying that we are packing our bags and heading offshore, but all of our business development activities and investments are focused offshore and three of our directors are in Europe. That is no accident because the market there is about 10 years ahead of us in terms of wave energy”.

Matthew Warren, the chief executive of the Clean Energy Council, said it was disappointing that Carnegie Corporation, the most advanced in wave energy in Australia, had missed out on funding. “It sends the wrong message in that if you manage to make it to the last quarter, like Carnegie Corporation, don’t expect to receive the right help”, he said. “Our concern is that if we don’t get this right then we could potentially be importing technology like Carnegie Corporation’s in 10 years rather than exporting it to the rest of the world.

“The problem with allocating funding in four large cheques is that you have four winners and 38 losers. I am not critical of any of the projects that received funding but it’s like betting on a roulette wheel you are more likely to get a return if you put on a number of small bets rather than a few big ones”, Mr Warren said. “The Southern Ocean is the greatest single wave energy resource on Earth, and Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Argentina and Chile are the only countries that can access it at scale. Out of those five, Australia is quite clearly the most advanced economically and technically and has the greatest capacity to drive that forward. Yet despite the chance to harness that more cost effectively than perhaps others do we are yet to see a concerted effort by governments to really assist that potential”.

Source: FFG Gippsland.

IRELAND’S economy may be in the dumps, but it hasn’t upset its mission to adopt climate safe electricity sources, with an Australian wave energy developer yesterday securing a key deal. Shares in the Perth-based Carnegie Wave Energy yesterday rose 0.3¢, or 35%, to 9¢, after it signed a formal collaboration deal with Ireland’s national energy authority to jointly develop wave energy projects at various locations. The three-year deal appoints Carnegie Corporation as a developer for Ireland’s ocean energy program.

It is a big step towards commercial testing and roll out of Carnegie Corporation’s technology which uniquely uses buoys tethered to seabed pumps to create pressure to power hydroelectric turbines onshore, creating zero emission electricity. Ireland has set a national target to produce a third of its electricity from renewable or limitless power sources such as the sun, wind and waves by 2020, much higher than Australia’s 20% target. Unlike Australia’s target, Ireland’s renewable energy target includes a specific target for ocean energy, which will deliver 75MWs of power from the ocean to its grid by 2012 and 500MW by 2020.

Carnegie Corporation chief executive Michael Ottaviano said the Irish Government had “clearly signalled” wave energy was on its radar with grant and tariff incentives and aggressive targets. He said the Australian Government needed to decide if it wanted Australia to be a developer and supplier of emerging clean-energy technologies, and benefit economically from owning the intellectual property, or to merely buy in products from offshore. “That is the fundamental question for our government to answer, because it’s not clear at the moment. Until you’ve answered that question, it’s difficult to set the policy response”, Dr Ottaviano said.

Source: FFG Gippsland.

The world’s largest tidal turbine was unveiled last week in Invergordon, Scotland. The AK1000, as it is called, developed by Atlantis Resources Corporation, will be installed on the sea bed and connected to the grid later this summer.

The turbine can reportedly generate enough electricity to power more than 1,000 homes. It is “designed for harsh weather and rough, open ocean environments such as those off the Scottish coast.”

“The giant AK1000 turbine has an 18 metre rotor diameter, weighs 130 tonnes and stands 22.5 metres high. It is capable of dispatching 1MW of predictable power at a water velocity of 2.65m/s,” Business Green reports.

This marks a pretty big milestone in the marine energy industry. It is one big project, but it is also the culmination of years of work to get the marine energy industry on the same stage as other forms of renewable energy and ready for commercial production.

“The AK1000 is capable of unlocking the economic potential of the marine energy industry in Scotland and will greatly boost Scotland’s renewable generation capacity in the years to come,” Atlantis chief executive Timothy Cornelius says. “Today is not just about our technology, it is about the emergence of tidal power as a viable asset class that will require the development of local supply chains employing local people to deliver sustainable energy to the local grid. The AK1000 takes the industry one step closer to commercial-scale tidal power projects.”

Cornelius says that with proper support (equal to the support that fossil fuel energy gets), marine energy could be a major source of energy in the future.

“We are at the start of a new industrial boom, akin to the development of the North Sea oil and gas fields,” said Cornelius. “If we receive the same support from all levels of government that the oil and gas industry received to make the North Sea the success that it is, then the future is very bright for marine power and even brighter for Scotland.”

Source: Clean Technica.

Over in the UK we like to do things … well, a little differently. That stiff upper lip nonsense was always a bit of a ruse, hiding a reckless ability to do those things sane human beings would never think of doing.

Like slinging a live four way power socket into a bath tub. Zap, you’re dead .. as the saying goes.

Yet this is precisely what’s been going on off the south west coast of Britain but with two crucial differences: the four huge plugs (like the one pictured) are designed as energy receivers, not emitters; and the Atlantic Ocean is a wee bit bigger than your average bathtub.

Ten miles off the Cornish town of Hayle, 180 feet below the sea, lies a 12 tonne four way plug which cost $64 million to build and install. Called the Wave Hub, it can have four 5MW marine power devices connected to it at any one time and is connected to the main national grid by a 15 mile length of cable.

Now, 5MW is peanuts compared to some of the projections for marine power installations; for example just up the coast it’s been estimated that the world’s largest tidal power generator could generate 187,000 MWh/year.

However permanent installation is not the aim of the Wave Hub. Rather, it’s all about providing a live scenario test bed for marine energy developers to come and test and tweak their inventions. If it just so happens it provides energy for 20,000 homes, then so much the better!

The first testers scheduled at the Wave Hub are New Jersey based Ocean Power Technologies, whose buoy based design is already live off the north coast of Spain. Their stint at the Wave Hub is to test out a new design which would see the buoys’ output increase by over three times.

Source: Clean Technica.