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Clean Power bioWAVE wave energy

Published on December 17th, 2015 | by Tina Casey

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$21 Million And 7 Years Later, New Ocean Energy Project Will Imitate Kelp

December 17th, 2015 by  


Ocean energy was barely mentioned during the just-completed COP21 Paris climate talks, but considering that more of the Earth’s surface will be undersea in the coming years, the ocean will likely become a key player in our sustainable energy future. With that in mind let’s take a look at a new $21 million ocean energy device called bioWAVE, which has just been deployed off the coast of Australia near Port Fairy, Victoria.

Ocean energy BioPower

The BioWAVE Ocean Energy Harvester

For those of you new to the topic, the idea behind ocean energy is fairly simple. The seven seas provide a boundless source of kinetic energy in the form of surface waves and sub-surface swells, which could be turned into an electrical current. The problem is coming up with a device that’s cost-effective, efficient, and durable.

The bioWAVE is designed to harvest sub-surface swells. It’s from the company BioPower Systems, helped along by $16 million in government funding, so group hug all you Australian taxpayers.

CleanTechnica first caught wind of bioWAVE back in 2008 when we described it as a kind of “underwater wind turbine,” though mechanically speaking, kelp is a more accurate comparison. This ocean energy device doesn’t spin or rotate, it sways back and forth with the motion of sub-surface swells:

BioWave ocean energy schematic

When we caught up with BioWAVE back in July 2015, work had just been completed on a prototype version of the device, with the eventual goal of installing whole arrays of larger production models. Here’s the rundown from BioPower Systems:

The unique bioWAVE device is a 26-meter tall oscillating structure designed to sway back-and-forth beneath the ocean swell, capturing energy from the waves and converting it into electricity that is fed into the grid via an undersea cable. The design was inspired by undersea plants and the entire device can lie flat on the seabed out of harm’s way during bad weather.

Apparently the deployment went smoothly despite powerful swells in the area (somewhat ironically, the best areas for wave energy generation pose the trickiest deployment issues):

bioWAVE wave energy

There will be a shakedown period before bioWAVE is producing electricity and connected to the grid, so we’ll keep an eye out for the news when that phase is complete.

Wave Power In The USA

If our US readers are wondering what the USA is doing with its abundant ocean energy resources, that’s coming along slowly. But, it’s coming.

One major project is the appropriately named WETS, an ocean energy test bed in Hawaii established several years ago by the US Navy, which was recently expanded. WETS got this mention in a November 30 update on the Navy’s considerable sustainable energy initiatives:

Navy and Marine Corps representatives gathered in February at the Marine Corps Base Hawaii’s (MCBH) Klipper Golf Course to bless the new wave energy test site (WETS) located in the waters off North Beach. This Navy-funded project plans to utilize wave power devices to extract energy from the surface-motion of ocean waves or from pressure fluctuations below the surface.

In September, the Fred Olsen Lifesaver wave energy converter (WEC) received a special Hawaiian blessing at Kilo Pier on Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam (JBPHH). The Lifesaver, considered one of the most sophisticated WECs on the market today, was developed in Norway by Fred Olsen Renewables and is deployed for offshore testing at the MCBH WETS site.

In case you’re wondering what Norway is doing in our test bed, WETS was designed to support private sector investment in new ocean energy technology by enabling companies to share a state-of-the-art test facility, so group hug US taxpayers.

CleanTechnica took note of the Fred Olson converter last year in a Bloomberg New Energy Finance critique of ocean energy investment, but it looks like the Navy has a different take on the topic.

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Images: via BioPower Systems.






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About the Author

specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.



  • ROBwithaB

    The fact that waves continue to roll in after the wind has stopped blowing is often cited as a major advantage of wave power. Wave power would give an almost constant flow of electrons, it was said. And because water is almost 1,000 times denser than air, the machines would have a much smaller footprint. Out at sea, where nobody could see the ugly bits. And half the world’s population lives within a hundred miles of the ocean, so that’s where we need the energy. And so on.

    And so governments took notice during the energy crisis of the 70s.
    And the “industry” got something like a BILLION (with a b) dollars of research funding over the years. And so far has pitifully little to show for it, except for a few small (and hugely expensive) prototype installations, and a lot of rusty (and hugely expensive) “sculpture”, some of it now resting on the bottom of the ocean.

    It turns out that big angry moving mountains of salt water are not a great place to put big complicated machines with lots of moving parts. And the scaling laws mean that the things have to be big to be worthwhile. But the bigger they are, the more inertia they have, so the more likely they are to lose any argument with above-mentioned angry moving mountains.

    In the intervening four decades or so, wind and solar have gotten cheap. And are likely to get REALLY cheap within the next decade. And they actually complement each other quite nicely, it turns out. And capacity factors for tall wind are getting close enough to “baseload” that the constancy of the waves isn’t really an issue. And batteries are hinting at the possibility that you don’t even need diesel generators for back-up.
    Even in the niche applications where wave power was perceived to have an advantage (islands, basically) its starting to look like other renewable solutions are going to be cheaper and easier.

    I don’t see a place for waves anymore. Unfortunately. Because wave power is Freaking Awesomely Cool.

    • Ronald Brakels

      It’s like fusion’s little brother.

      • ROBwithaB

        Yup.
        “It’s the energy source of the future, and always will be.”

  • Bob_Wallace

    Where’s the cost projection for electricity produced?

    Is this just a demonstration that it can be done or is there an economic argument for continued development?

    • juxx0r

      $21M for 250kW. Would need significant improvements to go commercial.

      • Bob_Wallace

        Yes, but that’s for a one off prototype. A materials/manufacturing specialist could roll out a final product estimate without a lot of work.

        • juxx0r

          Well CWE have had three CETO units in the water for over 9 months and nobody knows didly about the power produced. I suggest that some sort of understanding about the power profile and the capacity factor might be necessary too.

          • Lou Gage

            as I understand CETO5 was a pump demo to generate both energy from pumped pressurized water and also, to push water through a RO unit. Ceto6 is to used to generate energy underneath the water and transmit it to shore. I also would like to see more cost/benefit numbers. Lou Gage

    • Ronald Brakels

      Yeah… It is difficult to make an economic arguement for it. Wave power is not, or it wasn’t, a bad idea. Water is about 840 times denser than air, so one hundred years ago someone could quite reasonably say, “If for some reason everything in the future is not powered by healthy, life giving radium; we can use the power of the waves! The much higher density of water will make it far superior to creating galvanism than from the wind’s vigours!”

      But it turns out that the massive wind turbine blades that are necessary to capture the energy in low density winds, and the towering towers that are necessary to hold them aloft actually aren’t that big a deal compared to reliably operating equipment in seawater. And wave power doesn’t just have to compete with current prices for low emission generation, it has to hit a moving target and wind and solar costs continue to decline.

      So I want them to suceed in lowering cost enough to be competitive, but that seems to be an extremely difficult task, and I don’t see how it could be anything other than a nitch form of generation.

      We could have built maybe 14 megawatts of wind power for the $21 million cost of developing, making, and emplacing this 0.25 megawatt wave energy generator.

      • ROBwithaB

        I devoted six months of my life to the pursuit of devising a competitive way to harness wave power.
        Six months of my life, wasted.
        That’s the bad news.
        The good news: it wasn’t six years.

        Whilst it’s perfectly possible to design and build all manner of ingenious devices that would be quite capable of harnessing some of that “free” energy, doing it economically is going to be impossible, I fear.
        Which is massively disappointing for me, because I really love the IDEA of wave power. As does every other dreamer, crackpot, and backyard genius inventor, apparently….

        The technical hurdles are staggering. Basically: the ocean is a bitch.

  • JamesWimberley

    Like its Aussie rival the Carnegie Keto buoy, the Biowave gets round the reliability problem by putting everything underwater. Unlike it, Biowave needs a shallow seabed. Other things being equal, that gives a huge advantage to Carnegie.

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