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How Close is Wave Energy to Market?

Scott Cooney | Wednesday September 21st, 2011 | 2 Comments

Anyone who has watched waves lining up from a high point near shore can imagine the incredible potential of wave energy. Last week at the Asia Pacific Clean Energy Summit and Expo in Honolulu, Carnegie Wave Energy Limited presented its progress in this field. Carnegie is an Australian company (one of only 2 publicly traded wave energy companies) working to bring wave powered energy to market. Carnegie raised $45 million to help develop the technology, in addition to $12.5 million from the west Australian government.

Carnegie’s buoy is the key to harnessing the waves’ power. The buoy rests about one meter below the surface and is visible from above, but not from shore, since it is submerged. As the wave approaches, the buoy goes up, then descends as the wave period drops. Essentially, there’s a stretchable tether attached to the bottom of the buoy, with a piston at the bottom of the ocean with a hydroelectric pump. High pressure water is then sent to shore where it turns a turbine. “It’s fairly simple technology,” said Tim Sawyer of Carnegie Wave Energy.

The technology is simple, submerged, and scaleable.

Carnegie first piloted the program in 2006. This year, they’ve succeeded at demonstration scale with a grid-connected project in Perth City, Southwestern Australia. By 2013, they’re hoping to have a couple of commercial projects underway. Social, environmental, and cultural considerations all helped them choose southwestern Australia and Perth City. There are good waves, a nearby city that needs the power, and governmental support. Carnegie was extremely proactive, according to Sawyer, with authorities and other stakeholders. No significant environmental impacts were identified. In fact, the buoy might actually create habitat: 27 fauna species were found near the buoy during the survey, including one shark, one ray, 24 teleost, and one crustacean species.

Electricite d’ France (EDF) is a partner to Carnegie, and is perhaps one of the biggest utilities in the world. They’ve got a License Agreement to use the technology the northern hemisphere. EDF will be deploying a second pilot unit in the middle of the Indian Ocean. In addition, Carnegie plans to expand its technology throughout the world, in the western US/Canada, western South America, around Australia, and many other places.

Scott Cooney is the developer of a new Triple Bottom Line, Monopoly-esque board game, and the author of Build a Green Small Business (McGraw-Hill).

Follow Scott’s company, GreenBusinessOwner.com, on Twitter: Twitter.com/GreenBizOwner

Photo credit Foroyar on Flickr Creative Commons


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  • PJ Scally

    Any aquatic life entrainment/impingement?
    Any sediment problems?
    Any storm plans/impacts?
    Any special permits needed?

  • Matt Schnackenberg

    Tidal current power is already is use. Forget where, believe Africa, and its generating enough power for like 1000 homes with their experimental unit which is half the size as the one that some country in the EU is getting. There is no environmental impact that I know of except maybe slightly smaller waves? No issues reported so far, but I could see repair work needed to be done semi-regularly due to salt water corrosion.