FEATURE | A new Australian project is developing technology to convert wave energy into electricity

An Australian technology company has embarked on a project that seeks to use ocean waves to generate electricity for consumption by the general public.

Developed by Melbourne-based Wave Swell Energy (WSE), the UniWave200 demonstration device consists of a cement structure that is anchored to the seabed and fitted with a large chamber into which ocean waves flow. The waves then cause the air to compress and this causes an on-board turbine to spin.

The 200kW wave energy converter is currently located in Bass Sound off the coast of King Island in Tasmania, having been there since February 2021. The device will first generate electricity on the Hydro Tasmania grid in June next month, which is from benefit to King Islanders. Production is then gradually ramped up, with power exported intermittently to relatively small maritime states while on-board systems are physically monitored. The unit then began to be operated remotely, with some manual work required while the control systems continued to be optimized.

Greater efficiency at lower cost

Photo: Wave Swell Energy

The UniWave200 device has operated in a wider range of sea conditions – even including severe weather conditions – in the period since then and has been shown to be capable of continuously and autonomously delivering power to Hydro Tasmania’s grid for long periods of time up to 24 hours straight . The device also demonstrated its potential to operate continuously for increasingly longer periods of time.

WSE claims that under ideal wave conditions the technology is capable of supplying power to 200 households.

More than a year since its initial implementation, the UniWave200 project is considered the first successful application of a technology that converts wave energy into electricity. WSE CEO Paul Gieson said in a recent interview with ABC that the demonstrator has yielded conversion factors that are higher than those of other renewable energy technologies. Specifically, about 48 percent of the power generated by the waves is fed into the King Island electrical grid.

WSE said the success of the project was due to the inclusion of a unidirectional turbine in the wave converter. Similar converters developed in other countries use two-way turbines that spin as air is pushed out and sucked back in – leading some members of the public to refer to such devices as “artificial holes” – as the waves flow in and out of the chamber .

The unidirectional turbine in the WSE converter promises improvements in efficiency, affordability and durability. The company also claims that the initial cost is lower than that of wind or solar power. Because there are fewer moving parts below the water’s surface, the impact of waves is reduced, resulting in a more efficient system and lower maintenance requirements. Therefore, the technology has the potential to make wave power as viable as wind and solar power as a source of renewable energy for distribution to the public.

Flexible concept for other possible applications

Australian Ocean Energy Group’s Stephanie Thornton said the technology was working and ready for scale-up. This will then lead to the introduction of additional demonstration units, including larger units that are suitable for deployment locally as well as overseas. With a fivefold increase in size, there will also be a fivefold increase in the amount of energy that can be generated.

The UniWave200 technology also shows promise in other areas such as hydrogen production, ocean desalination and even coastal protection. In a 2021 interview with CNETWSE co-founder Tom Dennis said the converters also have the potential to function as sea walls that can protect low-lying coastal communities from the threat posed by severe weather and sea-level rise.

Photo: Wave Swell Energy

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