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Massive Offshore Waves Sink Australia's Oceanlinx Wavepower Pilot

Oceanlinx; named one of the world’s Top Ten Renewable Energy Investments by the UN, needs to go back to the drawing board to iron out some kinks in the design of its 2.5 MW wave energy power station.

A massive swell at the Port Kembla site, 150 meters off the coast of Australia was able to sink the continent’s first wave power device to feed power to the Australian grid. The $5 million pre-commercial pilot project had just begun supplying power to the shore in February 2010.

The wave energy industry is in its infancy. Other than this, only half a dozen pilots are actually are delivering electricity to grids, (most in Europe) and which designs will prevail remains to be seen. The US has tremendous potential off the Northwest coast from Oregon to Alaska.

Because it is a completely new industry, wave power entrepreneurs are trying out many different engineering designs to capture the power of the ocean. Some are sited on the sea floor, some float, and some are moored to the sea floor.

The Oceanlinx design was modeled on an off-shore oil rig – and moored to the sea floor

Essentially it was a platform floating partly above the sea surface with turbines suspended above the water;  inside a wind tunnel. These are designed to capture air pushed up and down as the waves beneath them swell and sink. The power generated by the spinning turbines is then fed to the coast to supply the grid.

Initially, the powerful waves just ripped the device from its moorings. Efforts to capture and tow it back to safety had to be abandoned in high seas, and the next day, it sank.

Unlike the other deep-sea energy failure going on now as a real oilmageddon gushes from the sea floor in the Gulf of Mexico, there is no horrific environmental disaster associated with this clean energy failure: just the need to get back to the drawing board and find another way to capture the ocean’s power. If anything, it just demonstrates the tremendous power of the sea.

With so many brilliant engineers working on wave energy, this will be more instructive to the nascent wave  energy industry – rather than a huge set-back.

Good luck to Oceanlinx as it figures out the solution and gets a revised attempt going.

Illustration: Arthur Mount

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