Wave-to-grid by next year
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