Floating wind turbine technology is just starting to get off the ground, and now suddenly wave energy is coming around to turbo-boost the industry. If all goes according to plan, a new floating wind-plus-wave project off the coast of Ireland will demonstrate how nations with a coastline can accelerate the clean energy transition and meet their 2050 net zero carbon goals just in time to thwart catastrophic climate change. You listening, USA?
The Rise Of The Floating Wind Turbine
Floating wind turbines aim at harvesting wind power from offshore sites that are too deep for fixed-platform structures. Attach a tether to something that floats, and you could put a wind turbine just about anywhere.
That greatly expands the opportunities for coastal nations like the US, which is already on track to festoon the relatively shallow waters of the Atlantic coast with offshore wind farms but has yet to dip a toe into the deeper waters of the Pacific (the Gulf of Mexico is a whole ‘nother kettle of fish, more on that later).
Just a few years ago, floating turbine technology seemed to be drifting around in the doldrums, but much R&D has been taking place under the radar and now the pace is picking up.
The floating wind turbine project in Ireland is part of the Western Star project proposed by Ireland’s Simply Blue Group. As one indicator of the commercial-ready status of the technology, earlier this year Simply Blue hooked up with Shell for another proposed floating wind turbine project called Emerald.
The Emerald project is located in the Cork region and is aimed at 300 megawatts of wind power initially, with the potential for 1 gigawatt eventually.
Clean Power Twofer: Wind Turbine + Wave Energy Device
The Western Star project ramps things up a notch with the addition of wave energy.
The wind turbine part is dubbed Project Ilen. It aims at 1.1 gigawatts for a site about 35 kilometers off the coast of County Clare.
For those of you keeping score at home, the name Ilen refers to the last-built ship among Ireland’s fleet of wooden sailboats. That would be 1926. Ilen has been restored and assigned as flagship to a Limerick-based sailing school and network.
The wave energy part is a much smaller, 5-megawatt array called Project Saoirse, which refers to a sister vessel to Ilen.
Project Saoirse will be located much closer to shore, at about 4-6 kilometers. The basic idea seems to be that wave energy devices can share undersea cable and other transmission infrastructure with floating wind turbines. Partly due to their high profile, floating wind turbines need to be sited far offshore in order to keep from running afoul of the local tourist industry and other stakeholders. That leaves a lot of empty space between the offshore farm and the coast. With a much lower profile, wave energy devices could monetize some of that space without ruffling feathers onshore.
How Far Along Is Wave Energy, Really?
Wave energy devices work by converting the mechanical up-and-down motion of waves into an electrical current. That sounds simple enough, especially considering the 24/7 availability of an endless supply of waves in the ocean.
However, the devil is in the details. Wave energy developers have been hammering away on a number of key issues including the ability to withstand salt water and stormy weather. Despite the obstacles, wave energy R&D has soldiered on, and it looks like all that hard work is paying off.
Project Saoirse is set to deploy wave energy devices engineered by the firm CorPower Ocean, a Swedish startup that sailed across the CleanTechnica radar in 2014.
“The technology for this new wave power device was invented by Dr. Stig Lundbäck, a medical doctor from Sweden who has spent his life studying the pumping principles of the human heart – and has used this knowledge to design a giant buoy that gently oscillates in resonance with the waves of the sea,” was the pitch. “The new device, which is now being further developed together with Spanish energy giant Iberdrola, promises to be five times more efficient than competing technologies at a third of the cost.”
Interesting! Ibderola is partnering with CorPower on the HiWave wave energy project in Portugal, which has not previously crossed the CleanTechnica radar though it has been in the works since 2013. Last month CorPower announced that HiWave is moving forward, with a 7.3 million-Euro lift from public and private partners.
“The investment supported by the European Union is provided through the NORTE 2020 Program operated by aicep Portugal Global (Portuguese Trade & Investment Agency) and CCDR-N (Norte Portugal Regional Coordination and Development Commission),” enthused CorPower.
The project is aiming at a bankability goal of 2024 to demonstrate the “survivability, performance and economics of a grid-connected array of Wave Energy Converters,” with the pilot wave energy farm to be located in Aguçadoura.
Fingers crossed! Agucadoura was the site of the ill-fated Pelamis wave energy project, but that was more than 10 years ago and many lessons have been learned since then.
Simply Blue, for one, is already convinced. So is the EU clean tech accelerator EIT Innoenergy, which has been all over CorPower like white on rice since 2012.
Last July EIT Innoenergy, ALMI Invest Greentech, and private investors joined in a €9 million round of funding led by Midroc New Technology.
“CorPower Ocean is a global leader in wave energy technology,” cheered EIT Innoenergy. “Its new generation of high-efficiency WECs (Wave Energy Converters) is inspired by the pumping principles of the human heart. Advanced control technology allows large amounts of energy to be harvested using small, low-cost devices.”
In that announcement EIT Innoenergy listed Sweden, Portugal, Scotland, and Norway on CorPower’s list of targeted sites, so it looks like the list is due for an update now that Ireland is on board.
Wind Turbines & Wave Energy, Perfect Together
The ability to piggyback a wave energy converter onto a wind turbine could have huge implications for the US, where tourism, recreation, and landowner stakeholders dictate that offshore wind turbines be kept out of sight from shore.
It’s possible that US offshore wind energy developers are already eyeballing CorPower and other wave energy firms, so don’t be surprised if a Saoirse-type project pops up around here these parts.
Hawaii is a good bet. Though it is blessed with an abundance of offshore wind resources, the state’s ability to find suitable sites for offshore wind farms is constrained by its tourism industry and other factors. A wave power array could enable it to suck more juice out of any available sites.
As for that thing about the Gulf of Mexico, offshore wind resources in the Gulf are less than optimal. Nevertheless, the Energy Department’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory has assessed the situation and has come up with scenarios under which an offshore wind turbine or two (or more) would make sense from a bottom line point of view.
We were guessing green hydrogen would come into the feasibility picture eventually, given some interesting activity in the ammonia industry in the Gulf state of Louisiana. It’s also possible that the wave energy piggyback angle could support the bottom line case for offshore wind in the Gulf of Mexico, so stay tuned for more on that.
Follow me on Twitter.
Photo: CorPower wave energy device with floating wind turbine in background courtesy of Simply Blue Energy.