Wave Energy pilot project for Port Fairy receives Victorian government funding

Surf coast residents in Victoria may be drawing some of their electricity from the ocean waves that come crashing onto the beaches in the not too distant future. The Victorian state Government has awarded Ocean energy company, BioPower Systems (BPS) $5 million of funding under the Sustainable Energy Pilot Demonstration Program to establish a $14 million pilot demonstration of the company’s 250kW bioWAVE ocean wave energy system at a grid-connected site near Port Fairy, Victoria.

This is a little step forward by the Baillieu Government in meeting legislated renewable energy targets. But for a small step forward on tackling climate change the Government has taken two large steps backwards with wind power developments being stifled by draconian planning regulations, and approval to ALCOA to extend coal mining at Anglesea for the next 50 years.

"In developing the bioWAVE technology we set out to address the many issues that have bedeviled most wave energy technologies," said CEO, Dr Timothy Finnigan. The undersea generator is designed to mimic the motion of large sea plants such as kelp under wave action. The critical components have just finished full scale testing at the companies Mascot factory in Sydney and the company is hoping to have the pilot project operational by 2013.

"We are now ready for the ultimate test – installing the bioWAVE in high energy 30-metre deep ocean waters. We have to raise another $3.6 million to complete the project funding, and given our results to date we are confident of achieving this in the coming months. The technology has been positively assessed by more than a dozen independent reviewers," said Dr Finnigan.

The multi-blade undersea generators supply grid compatible electricity to shore via high voltage undersea cables. During extreme conditions the equipment is designed to lie flat against the seabed, reducing the structural design requirements. The pilot project is planned to run for 4 years at a depth of about 30 metres about 800 metres from shore near Port Fairy. It will provide enough power for the equivalent of about 300 homes and create 23 new jobs.

The O-Drive at the heart of the system is a self-contained 250kW power conversion module designed to be detachable and retrievable, enabling convenient and low-cost maintenance.

"We believe bioWAVE will, when fully commercially developed, produce electricity at a price
highly competitive with wind and be closer to baseload characteristics than either wind or solar", said Dr Finnigan. "It is gratifying that the potential of the technology has been recognised by the Victorian Government," he added.

Here is how the company describes the operation of the bioWAVE generator:

The bioWAVE consists of a structure that sways back and forth beneath the waves, integrated with a self-contained module (O-Drive) that converts the resulting oscillating forces to electricity by pressurising hydraulic fluid, which is used to spin a generator to produce electricity for delivery to the grid via a subsea cable. The technology is designed to operate in depths of 30 to 50 metres. The critical O-Drive module has been fully tested at its commercial scale of 250kW (Note, a 1MW commercial-scale bioWAVE would utilise a set of four 250kW O-Drive modules, arranged in parallel). The O-Drive is designed to be detached and easily retrieved for onshore servicing. The energetic wave climate of the Southern Ocean is ideal for performance testing of the 250kW pilot-scale bioWAVE, which will be independently assessed and validated for potential commercial development.

Animations and further description at BioPower Systems website. The company is also developing a bioSTREAM product for tapping the energy in tidal currents, that will also make use of the O-Drive module.

Expanding to a commercial scale 1MW bioWAVE system has the potential to create 200 jobs over five years according to the company.

The Australian coast has many sites suitable for wave and tidal systems. The Commonwealth Scientific and Research Organisation (CSIRO) assessed in 2010 that the "Southern Australian margin is one of the most energetic regions in the world suitable for the extraction of wave energy for electricity generation."

As well as the BioWAVE pilot project at Port Fairy, there are proposed projects by different wave energy companies for Port MacDonnell and Elliston in South Australia, Portland, Warnambool and Phillip Island in Victoria, Clarence Straight in the Northern Territory, King Island and Flinders Island in Bass Strait.

Currently there are pilot or pre-commercial projects at Phillip Island and Lorne in Victoria, Port Kembla in NSW, and Fremantle and Garden Island in Western Australia.

The Perth based Carnegie Wave Energy company has a demonstration commercial scale buoy generator at its Garden Island site in Western Australia. It is about to deploy a 1MW CETO 4 generator at the French La Reunion island, with plans to expand to a 15MW array. It is investigating possibilities for installations in Ireland, Canada and the island of Bermuda.

Another wave energy company that has been developing and researching wave power generators for commercial use over the last 14 years is Oceanlinx, although in 2010 it's 2.5 MW pre-commercial project anchored 150 metres off Port Kembla broke free from mooring lines in a massive swell and drifted into the breakwater where it sank, according to this report in the Illawarra Mercury and another in CleanTechnica. It was at the time connected to the grid performing to expectations and provided electricity from March to May 2010 to customers of local retailer, Integral Energy. This incident shows that wave power technology is still very new with the potential for failures, with many prototypes being tested and developed before commercialisation.

Oceanlinx is hopeful of funding for a pilot project generating 1MW-3MW off Portland, with the possibility to expand into an array of units likely to have a generating capacity of between 30 and 100 megawatts, according to this June 2011 report on Yes to Renewable Energy website.

US company Ocean Power Technologies (OPT), received federal funding in 2009 for a 19MW pre-commercial demonstration unit off the Portland coast.

AquaGen have a 1.5kw demonstration project operating at Lorne Pier, installed in November 2010 - a first open ocean technology trial for this prototype.




Wave energy generators that are fixed, meaning attached to the seafloor or the shore, can cause disturbances in the seafloor and to marine ecosystems, according to the OCS Alternative Energy Program. Even above-water floating generators can disturb the natural marine habitat in a particular area and produce unforeseen outcomes. Although the generators cause no pollution once constructed, accidental hydraulic fluid leaks can cause a major environmental problem.


I've checked the OCS Alternative Energy Program website for evidence of negative marine impact, and in fact the Technology White Paper on Wave Energy suggests that "Marine Habitat could be impacted positively or negatively depending on the nature of additional submerged surfaces, above-water platforms, and changes in the seafloor."

At present, wave energy devices have not been installed long enough to determine the impact, however, most of these devices will be installed in high wave climate areas, which generally have a low level of marine flora and fauna.

In relation to fluid leaks, most of the permitting for these installations worldwide only allow for environmentally friendly biodegradable oils to be used.