Anyone who’s gone swimming on a windy day knows the power of the ocean’s waves. Yesterday, Australia marked the next step forward in harnessing that energy by switching on the world’s first large-scale wave energy power plant.
Though there are other small wave power devices that feed into commercial grids (like the Islay LIMPET in the UK), Australia’s Perth Wave Energy Project is the largest grid-connected plant in the world and operates multiple wave energy devices.
There are a whole host of different technologies designed to take advantage of the ocean’s undulations, but the Perth project’s technology is unique because the units are submerged, rather than floating on top of the water, making them less likely to get battered by storms.
“The fully submerged buoys are tethered to seabed pump units. These buoys move with the motion of the passing waves and drive the pumps. The pumps pressurize fluid which is then used to drive hydro turbines and generators to produce electricity,” Carnegie Wave Energy Limited, which spent the last ten years developing the technology, explained in a press release.
Image: Carnegie Wave Energy
For now, the energy collected into the grid won’t be powering homes across Australia. All of the power generated is being purchased by the Australian Department of Defense to power the country’s largest naval base on Garden Island. But Carnegie is already developing a larger, next generation version of its wave energy devices that the firm claims will deliver four times as much energy as its current model. Those next generation devices could be added to the current fleet to provide a bigger slice of renewable energy to Australia’s grid.
Despite wave energy’s efficiency and reliability, it’s been one of the slowest renewable energies to get off of the ground. Australia’s new plant could just be a flash in the pan-like a similar, but ill-fated, endeavour in Portugal. But if the little bobbing buoys under the water are able to capture as much energy as Carnegie predicts, it could serve as a necessary case study to convince other countries around the world to invest in this underused green technology.