Power generation systems that use the kinetic energy of ocean waves have long been an attractive option for coastal and inshore communities that want renewable and reliable sources of electricity. However, building and operating these systems can bring huge cost challenges such as maintenance and prevention of corrosion by seawater. On the other hand, advances in engineering technologies are now lowering the barriers for the deployment of wave power projects. Wave farms (or wave energy parks), where arrays of wave energy converters generate electricity offshore or nearshore, are now being developed at various locations worldwide. Just recently, Wello Oy, a Finnish wave power company, has been awarded a contract to build a 10-megawatt wave farm in the island province of Bali in Indonesia. This project will be the largest wave farm worldwide, and the clean power that it provides is expected to create many environmental and economic benefits to the popular tourist destination.
Wello has spent about a decade developing its patented wave energy converter (WEC) called “Penguin”. The device looks like a curved marine vessel that is ready to roll over. However, it actually floats on water during operation and can be anchored to the sea floor at a depth of 50 meters. When passing waves hit Penguin, it gyrates and converts the kinetic energy of the waves into electricity that can be transported through a cable. Wello CEO Heikki Paakkinen said that Penguin is purposely designed with the curves, slopes, and other asymmetrical features because its peculiar form allows it to rotate and roll in specific ways. In particular, the mast that turns the generator always rotates in the clockwise direction.
Furthermore, the rotating mast is directly connected to the main shaft of the generator, and they are all housed within the vessel. The arrangement offers two crucial advantages that set Penguin apart from other WECs. First, the moving parts are inside the vessel and are not in contact with the seawater. This significantly slows down the speed of corrosion. Second, the mast and the generator are working with the same rotating motion. There is no need for additional gears or hydraulics. Paakkinen even pointed out that the rest of the system are “simple wind turbine electronics.”
Due to the simplicity of the overall design, Penguin is much more cost-effective and quicker to set up compared with WECs from other suppliers. Wello says that Penguin is even competitive against wind power generation, and its cost can be reduced by a further 50% through mass production.
Wello will be working with Gapura Energi Utama (GEU), an Indonesian infrastructure company that issued the contract. The Bali project will also be the first commercial deployment of Penguin. Once the permitting process is finalized, Wello will begin delivery, which is expected to occur at the end of 2018. Penguin has gone through an extensive period of development and trials. In 2012, Wello tested the device off the coast of Orkney, Scotland, and found that it could withstand waves of up 18 meters in height. The giant waves did not cause the device to malfunction, and there was no need to replace internal components during maintenance.
Demand for electricity increases in Indonesia
The demand for electricity in Indonesia has risen significantly in recent years, growing by an annual rate of around 8% on average. In Bali and many other islands within the Indonesian archipelago, tourism is an important part of the local economy and its survival depends on maintaining the pristine natural environment for visitors. Hence, balancing the need for more power and the protection of the environment has become a dilemma. Local communities do not want to rely on coal-fired power stations that can raise the carbon emission level. At the same time, renewable generation systems such as solar panels and wind turbines can ruin sceneries.
According to Paakkinen, Wello Penguin is the perfect solution for Bali because it can meet the growing electricity demand while staying out of people’s sights. Paakinen said that visiting tourists see Bali as a paradise island, so they do not want to see how the electricity that they take for granted is produced. Hence, Penguin, which operates way out in the water, is unlikely to be noticed by both visitors and locals.
Komang Agus Pribadiana, president manager of GEU, stated that wave energy can potentially contribute at least 17 gigawatts of electricity to Indonesia’s grid, even though this market has yet to be explored. Pribadiana added that working with Wello is the best strategy, and he hoped that this partnership could lead to the formation of a local supply chain for WECs.
The idea of capturing energy from ocean waves has been in existence for several decades. However, wave power still lags behind solar and wind power in terms of development because of the enormous hurdles confronting the market entrants. Besides the high costs of constructing and deploying WECs, the corrosion of equipment by seawater makes the maintenance of wave farms very difficult as well. Additionally, ocean waves can change in shape, direction, and height depending on the weather and other factors. The conditions needed for harvesting wave energy therefore constitute a constraint to the commercialization of wave power technologies in general.
Despite all these issues related to feasibility and practicality, Wello is highly optimistic about the future of the wave power market.
As for Wello’s strategy in promoting wave power worldwide, Paakkinen said his company is now identifying potential locations where wave farms can provide cheaper electricity compared with solar and wind generation projects. At the same time, Wello continues to invest in the design and manufacturing of its generation equipment. By improving performances and cost structures of WECs, wave power will eventually become competitive against other sources energy and see global adoption.
(The above article is an English translation of a Chinese article written by Daisy Chuang. The credit of the first image at the top of the article goes to Pixabay.)