No, really. This sure looks like the Loch Ness monster to us, or at least a robotic version, but it’s actually a new wave energy device called Azura™ from the company Northwest Energy Innovations. It’s getting a shakedown cruise off the coast of Oahu, where Marine Corps Base Hawaii has been serving as a shared test bed for wave energy.
We Built This New Wave Energy Test Bed!
We’ve been following the US Navy and Marines wave energy venture since 2010, when we noticed that the Hawaii base was being partly powered by wave energy. Since then, the departments of Energy and the Navy have both been throwing more dollars into the Hawaii wave energy effort.
The whole idea is to leverage the site for R&D by the private sector, so go ahead and give yourselves a pat on the back, US taxpayers.
This is the first time that Northwest Energy Innovations (NWEI) has crossed our radar so lets dig in.
Wave Energy From All Directions
According to NWEI, Azura is the first device to do grab energy from the horizontal or “surge” motion of waves as well as the vertical or “heave” motion.
The power is generated by the motion between the hull (the part that’s under water) and the float (the part that’s above).
Here’s a nifty schematic that shows the “guts” of the device, which NWEI calls the PowerPod. The float is not shown:
The two hydraulic cylinders in the two shafts are the key elements. The shafts are partly flooded (marked “wet” in the image above). When a wave approaches, it makes the float rotate while the hull heaves and surges. That motion is transmitted to a crankshaft that drives the cylinders, and the resulting pressure goes to drive a hydraulic motor. Once you have your motor, all you need is a generator and Bob’s your uncle.
As for comparisons with the Loch Ness monster, maybe our imagination is getting away with us but check out the device in action via YouTube and tell us what you think:
First Ever Validation For Grid-Connected Wave Energy
According to NWEI, Azura is the first grid-connected wave energy device in the US that is going to be validated by an independent third party — namely, the University of Hawaii.
The Azura unit was deployed earlier this week at the Marine base, which is located near Kaneohe Bay, and it will stay there for 12 months of testing.
The idea is to see how wave energy integrates with grid distribution, with an eye toward commercializing the technology. The University of Hawaii will be responsible for collecting and analyzing the data.
Another goal of the demo project is to determine the levelized cost of energy (LCOE) for the device. LCOE is important because it enables prospective investors to compare the cost of power generated by different kinds of technology. It includes everything from design and administrative costs to shovels-in-the-ground, ongoing production costs, and even retirement.
We’ll have to wait a good 12 months for the final results, but that’s not so bad considering that Azura has been in development for about 10 years. It started off in New Zealand under the company Callaghan Innovation before transitioning to a collaborative model including Energy Hydraulics Ltd. as well as NWEI.
We’re also looking forward to more news from NWEI’s other wave energy project in the US, at a shared testing site in Oregon.
Not for nothing, but the Governor of Hawaii just signed a bill requiring the state to transition to 100% renewable energy by 2045. Offshore wind energy, solar, and geothermal will most likely play the biggest roles, but it looks like wave energy could factor in, too.
Image Credits: Photo, schematic, and YouTube courtesy of NWEI.