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Tapping the power of the world’s oceans

AW-Energy’s unique WaveRoller technology is set to be one of the most promising approaches in the quest for harnessing the power of the oceans, the world’s largest untapped source of energy. The company plans to have a 300 kW demonstration plant supplying electricity to the grid up and running in 2011.

Given the massive potential of the world’s oceans as a source of energy and the fact that they have remained untapped until now, ocean energy offers immense opportunities for anyone with the technology capable of unlocking its power. Approximately 2 terawatts – about double current world electricity output – could be produced from the oceans using wave energy, according to the World Energy Council.

Although a number of concepts have been developed based on phenomena such as tidal currents and offshore waves, AW-Energy’s patented WaveRoller is the first solution to harness the surge phenomenon near the sea bottom at intermediate depths close to shore.

Invisible, silent, and safe

AW-Energy’s WaveRoller features hinged plates or ‘flaps’, anchored to the ocean floor. These are rocked back and forth by the motion of the water, and the resulting kinetic energy collected by a hydraulic ram. This energy can then be converted into electricity by a hydraulic motor/generator system or harnessed for desalination purposes to produce drinking water.

Commercial-scale units will be rated in the MW class, and the plan is to deploy WaveRollers in modules, making it easy to build large generation units.

The environmental impact of the technology is minimal. Installed at a typical depth of 10 to 25 metres below the surface, WaveRoller units do not hinder the natural movement of the water significantly or generate any noise audible on the surface or the shore.

Rolling things out

Following tank testing, computer-aided simulations, and the successful operation of a prototype unit, which won the unanimous support of local residents, marine biologists, fishermen, and politicians in Portugal, AW-Energy is now ready to deploy a 300 kW WaveRoller demonstration unit off the Portuguese coast at Peniche.

Known as SURGE (Simple Underwater Renewable Generation of Electricity), the project, funded in part by the EU, has attracted industrial heavyweights such as Metso Automation, Bosch-Rexroth, and ABB. Parallel to this project, AW-Energy is also designing a MW-scale commercial unit, which it hopes will be ready by 2013.

Working with Garrad Hassan & Partners, AW-Energy has developed software solutions for micro-siting WaveRoller technology and aims to participate in site development activities in key market areas in Europe, North and South America, and Australia.

With full-scale commercialisation approaching, the WaveRoller looks set to start challenging offshore wind energy in terms of investment costs, as well as more traditional energy sources when the CO2 factor is factored into the equation.

WaveRoller technology is able to generate energy in a wider range of conditions than existing wave energy solutions, including locations with long wave periods and a strong swell. These offer more consistent power generation opportunities year-round than wind energy, for example.
> John Liljelund
(Published in HighTech Finland 2011)