Wave-to-grid by next year

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Resources - Karen Frith

HE first stage of a po­ten­tially large wave en­ergy project is sched­uled to start gen­er­at­ing its first elec­tric­ity as early as April next year at Port­land, Vic­to­ria, ac­cord­ing to Oceanlinx, the New South Wales-based com­pany be­hind the project. The Port­land op­er­a­tion ini­tially will con­sist of two, 1.5 megawatt units which would feed up to 27MW of power into the lo­cal grid.

Ac­cord­ing to Oceanlinx’s chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer, Stu­art Bensley, en­vi­ron­men­tal sur­veys and ap­provals are un­der­way, and it is ex­pected the first of the com­pany’s 1.5MW float­ing wave en­ergy con­ver­sion units will be on line in the sec­ond quar­ter of 2009.

Bensley says the com­pany is seek­ing ap­proval to in­stall two of its patented tech­nol­ogy wave en­ergy con­ver­sion units in the first in­stance, but that the project has the po­ten­tial to ex­pand to as many as 18 units.

The Vic­to­rian Gov­ern­ment’s clean en­ergy arm, Sus­tain­abil­ity Vic­to­ria, has backed the tech­nol­ogy with a $1 mil­lion grant to­ward the $5 mil­lion first unit from its $80 mil­lion Re­new­able En­ergy Sup­port Fund.

Oceanlinx, based in Botany, has also been se­lected by the UK Gov­ern­ment as one of four wave en­ergy tech­nol­ogy groups to plug into the gov­ern­ment’s new ‘‘ wave hub’’ off the coast of Corn­wall.

The South West of Eng­land Re­gional De­vel­op­ment Agency (RDA) is set­ting up the world’s first large-scale wave farm, where it is test­ing the world’s lead­ing wave en­ergy tech­nol­ogy for re­new­able power gen­er­a­tion.

The RDA is in­vest­ing 27 mil­lion pounds on the hub ($60 mil­lion), which will in­clude an on­shore sub­sta­tion con­nected to elec­tri­cal equip­ment on the seabed, 16 kilo­me­tres off­shore.

‘‘ One of the big­gest is­sues for the re­new­able en­ergy in­dus­try in Aus­tralia is the low re­new­able en­ergy elec­tric­ity tar­iff and the lack of clar­ity there has been on car­bon pric­ing,’’ Bensley said. ‘‘ We’re get­ting some clar­ity now with the new fed­eral Gov­ern­ment, but the elec­tric­ity tar­iff for re­new­able en­ergy in Aus­tralia is low by world stan­dards,’’ he said.

He says the tar­iff off­shore is as much as three times the rate in Aus­tralia and that this is a legacy of Aus­tralia’s heavy reliance on the coal in­dus­try — but that is slowly chang­ing.

While the com­pany is forg­ing ahead to try to meet its 2009 sched­uled start-up, Sus­tain­abil­ity Vic­to­ria’s project man­ager of re­new­able en­ergy de­ploy­ment, John Ed­goose, says the en­vi­ron­men­tal ap­provals process had been pro­tracted be­cause there is no prece­dent for a project of this type.

He says it is ‘‘ dif­fi­cult to pre­dict’’ when the project will come on­stream.

‘‘ The first is al­ways the hard­est; the sec­ond and third and oth­ers are much eas­ier. That’s been the ra­tio­nale for our fund­ing — to sup­port pi­o­neers with tech­nol­ogy that’s tech­ni­cally proven, but not yet reached the com­mer­cial stage. This is cer­tainly one of the lead­ing- edge wave tech­nolo­gies, there are a few of them emerg­ing from R&D from around the world but de­ploy­ment in­ter­na­tion­ally is about get­ting the first com­mer­cial op­er­a­tion up and run­ning,’’ Ed­goose said.

Oceanlinx has al­ready suc­cess­fully tested its tech­nol­ogy with a 500 kilo­watt wave en­ergy project op­er­at­ing at Port Kem­bla, NSW. It is also de­vel­op­ing a project in Hawaii af­ter sign­ing an agree­ment to in­stall its float­ing wave en­ergy con­vert­ers off the coast of Maui. And it is in­ves­ti­gat­ing projects off Namibia and Rhode Is­land.

The com­pany’s patented tech­nol­ogy re­lies on wave ac­tion to cre­ate air­flow within an over­wa­ter cham­ber, which then drives a tur­bine and gen­er­ates elec­tric­ity.

The Oceanlinx project is Aus­tralia’s first hope of see­ing com­mer­cially vi­able re­new­able en­ergy from the ocean.

In the early 2000s a pro­posal for a tidal en­ergy har­ness­ing project in the Kim­ber­ley Re­gion of West­ern Aus­tralia was un­suc­cess­ful be­cause the pro­posed project was of in­suf­fi­cient size to be com­mer­cially vi­able.

But de­spite this early fail­ure, fed­eral West­ern Aus­tralian-based Lib­eral MP Wil­son Tuckey is con­vinced that with enough re­search and sup­port clean en­ergy could be gen­er­ated from the gi­ant tidal move­ments in West­ern Aus­tralia’s Kim­ber­ley re­gion and fed into the east­ern states power grid.

The power gen­er­ated could also be used by ma­jor liq­ue­fied nat­u­ral gas pro­duc­ers to lower emis­sions dur­ing the nat­u­ral gas liquifi­ca­tion process, says Tuckey.

Tuckey has been a long-time ad­vo­cate for the re­search, and says he has been dis­ap­pointed as suc­ces­sive gov­ern­ments have failed to in­vest in re­search to ad­vance the com­mer­cial­i­sa­tion of this nat­u­ral re­source.

‘‘ I’d like to see the gov­ern­ment have a tidal en­ergy de­part­ment to progress this,’’ he said. ‘‘ As long as we con­tinue to con­sume we have to turn to a re­source that is pre­dictable and of a mag­ni­tude that we can achieve some­thing, and this is it.

‘‘ In France they have gen­er­ated 250 megawatts of tidal en­ergy for nearly 50 years and we’ve got a bet­ter re­source, with 11-me­tre tides twice daily. The coast­line there is fiordic and there are hun­dreds of op­por­tu­ni­ties to har­vest this en­ergy,’’ he said.

He says the French are suc­cess­fully us­ing tidal en­ergy at the Rance River, and this has been run­ning since 1966 with a ca­pac­ity of 240 megawatts.

Tuckey says he has urged Wood­side En­ergy to be­come the first com­mer­cial cus­tomer for this type of en­ergy and use the power in its gas liquifi­ca­tion process for the new Browse Basin project.

Ac­cord­ing to Tuckey this would en­able the com­pany to pre­serve its nat­u­ral gas for ex­port rather than us­ing it in power gen­er­a­tion, and would re­duce CO emis­sions. ‘‘ The equiv­a­lent

2 of 10 per cent of po­ten­tial LNG ex­ports are be­ing burnt do­mes­ti­cally to power the liquifi­ca­tion process. If they used tidal en­ergy they could ex­port this gas in­stead of burn­ing it here.’’

Wood­side’s re­sponse is that vari­a­tions in tidal power make it un­suit­able. How­ever the com­pany says that s tidal power tech­nol­ogy ad­vances it will mon­i­tor its po­ten­tial as a sup­ple­men­tary en­ergy source.

The Clean En­ergy Coun­cil of Aus­tralia’s man­ager of pol­icy, Rob Jack­son, says the po­ten­tial in the Kim­ber­ley is enor­mous, al­though there are two is­sues in har­ness­ing power in the re­gion — the lo­ca­tion is re­mote and de­mand for power there is low.

He also says the in­vest­ment needed for suit­able in­fra­struc­ture to har­ness and trans­port the power is enor­mous, and prob­a­bly out­weighs the ben­e­fits to busi­ness and con­sumers.

Re­search: Oceanlinx has tested its gen­er­a­tion ideas off Port kem­bla, in NSW

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