BioPower Systems (BPS) is developing a 250 kilowatt (kW) pilot demonstration of its bioWAVE ocean wave energy system at a grid-connected site near Port Fairy, Victoria.
bioWAVE technology is based on the concept of bio-mimicry, and designed for commercialisation in multi-unit ‘farm’ installations for delivery of utility-scale clean energy to onshore distribution grids.
BPS’ Port Fairy pilot demonstration recently took a step closer to commencement, receiving $5 million in funding from the Victorian Government under the government’s Sustainable Energy Pilot Demonstration Program to go towards the cost of the $14 million project.
The pilot is scheduled to be deployed by June 2013 (if the balance of required funding is secured), and is expected to remain in place for four years.Article continues below…
Testing the technology
BPS has spent the past five years performing multiple on-land tests of bioWAVE at an increasing scale, prior to ocean deployment, to reduce the costs and difficulties associated with development work in the ocean.
Critical components of the product have been tested at full scale at the BPS factory in Mascot, New South Wales, and Dr Finnigan says that the company has been able to hone bioWAVE to specifically address technical issues that have hampered previous wave energy technologies.
“We are now ready for the ultimate test – installing the bioWAVE in high energy, 30 m deep ocean waters,” BPS Chief Executive Dr Timothy Finnigan says. “We have to raise another $3.6 million to complete the project funding [for Port Fairy], and, given our results to date, we are confident of achieving this in the coming months.”
Twelve organisations are assisting BPS with bringing the pilot online by contributing funding and in-kind support to the Port Fairy project, including:
- AMOG Consulting, for engineering works
- Keppel Prince Engineering, for fabrication works
- Siemens, for equipment supply
- BlueScope Steel, for materials supply
- Diamond Energy, for power offtake
- CNC Design, for automation
- The University of Melbourne, for research and development.
Under the sea
Inspired by the motion of large sea plants under wave action, bioWAVE differs from other wave technologies in three aspects.
It is designed to generate grid-compatible electricity ‘in situ’, and hence is connected to the shore via a subsea electrical cable only. BPS says that this technique produces flexibility on locating the plant, opening up access to greater energy resources, while transmitting the energy to shore efficiently as high voltage electricity.
During extreme wave conditions, bioWAVE will automatically assume a ‘safe’ position lying flat against the seabed, reducing structural design requirements (and hence cost) while maintaining reliability.
Dr Finnigan anticipates that the wide multi-blade structure of bioWAVE technology will capture a much higher proportion of available energy than some other ocean energy designs.
“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,” Dr Finnigan says.
The bioWAVE consists of a structure that sways back and forth beneath waves, integrated with a self-contained module – the O-Drive – which converts the resulting oscillating forces into 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 30–50 m; the O-Drive module has been fully tested at its commercial scale of 250 kW. In higher capacity commercial-scale operations, such as a 1 megawatt (MW) ocean wave energy plant, BPS would utilise a set of four 250 kW O-Drive modules arranged in parallel.
The pilot project: A Fairy tale coming true
Following the full implementation of its Port Fairy pilot project, BPS will assess the opportunity for the expansion of bioWAVE in Victoria using a commercial-scale 1 MW system.
Before reaching that point, the company will face a few challenges in the construction of the pilot – particularly with regard to handling large pieces of equipment in the Great Australian Bight.
Dr Finnigan says “We have done a lot of planning and analysis of resources and logistics, and the bioWAVE has been designed to address any known constraints and challenges. In addition, we have completed substantial testing of major components and subsystems on land, so we are working hard to manage risks and minimise potential problems.”
BPS is taking care to design the Port Fairy system so that it will have minimal impact on marine habitats and fisheries.
“We are working with the local community and stakeholders to address concerns, but the bioWAVE is not audible or visible from shore, so we won’t anticipate noise or visual pollution issues,” explains Dr Finnigan.
The other challenge will come in the form of receiving adequate funding to sustain the pilot – though Dr Finnigan notes that the process of receiving government funding has thus far been smooth sailing for BPS.
“Current Federal and state renewable energy funding programs are vastly improved with regard to ocean power projects, and there is now an adequate level of awareness and understanding of ocean energy,” he says.
“Financing remains an obstacle, but policy and planning issues are being addressed more or less in step with development of technologies and projects – I think governments will try to avoid holding up any worthwhile developments.
“The rate of technology development is limited by the resources that can be applied to it, which is constrained by finances and by availability of skilled engineers.”