You have to get up pretty early in the morning to beat dawn’s early light in Finland’s summer. About 1.30 AM during the week I was there. But all winter the only light you see is electric. Perhaps that is why the green tech sector in Finland is so focused on wringing every last bit of efficiency out of energy sources. The government funds the most R&D in the world, and the Finns are great at Smart Grid technology innovation.
So I wasn’t surprised to hear that in March 2010, the very cost-effective Finnish WaveRoller just received a new Smart Grid patent.
“Now it is not a stupid device,” CEO John Liljelund told me over a coffee in Helsinki. On shore computers monitor the waves and now in response to each incoming wave, they are able to actively tune the hydraulic circuit. He wouldn’t say how exactly, but every 20 minutes, if needed, they can control the buoyancy of the flap by moving water around inside the swinging “door” part.
But he assured me that they haven’t gone overboard on this new tech. The new clever Waveroller “is not some nano-thing.” The part that is under the water is still as simple as before (previous story). They deliberately construct it of tried-and-tested marine materials: steel, concrete and the kind of fiberglass known to be good in corrosive environments; type-E fiberglass.
They had it made using giants of traditional Finnish industrial heavy tech, along with the top shipyard in Portugal – that has been turning out ships since the ’60s – so that what is to be tested next summer will simply be just its power production and environmental impact (not discovering how some new material might or might not perform under water).
As invented by former diver Rauno Koivusaari, as the most elegantly simple ocean energy concept ever – a “door” on the sea floor that patiently and predictably generates power by being pushed back and forth by the surge currents under the waves – the new Waveroller will now also be intelligent.
By tuning the buoyancy in the flap “door” in response to monitored changes in currents, now it can react almost organically in real time, actually changing the center of gravity to wring the maximum power from each surge. They also learned from the first test that they have to make sure that no water goes under the flap.
For the next test five hundred meters off-shore at Peniche, in Portugal, Liljelund says, “We have an installation and a permit to add energy into Portugal, the third party survey is done, Portugal will monitor it and see how it performs,” adding that the Waveroller can’t wait five years and spend $5 million just for a test.
AW-Energy has spent two years monitoring the first test, including sediment movement studies. Four naval ships will be among the groups monitoring the new test.
Peniche is a popular surfing spot and is a nature sanctuary; no solar or wind turbines are even allowed there. Portugal is very practical about giving out permits, says Liljelund. “They say does it make any harm? If no, then, OK. Prove it. They say, ‘Let’s do it: then we’ll see.’This a problem; this is not’.” Lijelund told me that they have done two environmental assessments for the site with their previous prototype units and been able to prove the feasibility.
This makes the spot potentially a great site for this game-changing technology, that could be a clean energy solution able to be deployed in environmentally sensitive areas. Not just that, but it is smaller, more reliable, and potentially also cheaper than off-shore wind. Even at commercial scale (with the three flaps placed not in a series like the test, but in a triangle) it would be about sixty six feet wide and thirty three feet high, in water about four hundred feet deep.
Because the energy density in water is higher than in air, a 1.5 megawatt Waveroller does not need to be comparable in size to a 1.5 megawatt wind turbine to produce the same power.
Even at the pre-commercial size, the 1.5 MW Waveroller would produce power at under 200 euros; $247 per megawatt hour, and once in commercial production, they are targeting a ballpark of 65 to 80 euros, or just $80 to $100 per megawatt hour.
At just 1.5 to 2 million euros ($1.8 – $2.4 million) per megawatt to build, it is under half the cost to build off-shore wind turbines now in Europe at 3.6 million euros (or $4.45 million) per MW, so it is not surprising that green tech investors in Silicon Valley have shown interest, and the company is now in talks with utilities in Oregon and California.
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