Kiwi wave energy device gets US trial

By Ben Chapman-Smith

The Wave Energy Technology-NZ converter is being tested off US north-west coastline over the next two months. Photo / Supplied
The Wave Energy Technology-NZ converter is being tested off US north-west coastline over the next two months. Photo / Supplied

A kiwi-designed device which generates electricity by ocean wave power is one step closer to breaking into the massive US energy market.

The Wave Energy Technology-NZ (Wet-NZ) converter will be tested off the Oregon coast over the next two months.

It is a major milestone for the eight-year project, which was a collaboration between Industrial Research Ltd (IRL), a Crown Research Institute, and private Wellington company Power Projects Ltd.

Success with the trial meant the possibility of full-scale commercialisation in the US, said Gavin Mitchell, IRL general manager of industry engagement.

"This US deployment is a great opportunity to promote New Zealand technology in one of the world's most important energy markets."

The device was designed to extract as much energy as possible from three different types of wave motion.

A half-scale, 18.4-metre long version would be moored to the sea floor off Oregon in an upright position, with wave movement converted into energy by a system of on-board hydraulics.

Mitchell said the next step after this test would be to get further funding from the US government to develop and trial a full-scale version of the device.

That would need to be tested in bigger, more powerful waves in another part of the country, he said.

The designers had also applied to the US navy to be considered for a 12-month test in Hawaii.

"That's to allow the navy to evaluate energy devices to look at rolling it out at their bases worldwide."

Wave-energy technology was still in its early stages both in New Zealand and internationally, Mitchell said.

"Imagine where wind turbines were 15 years ago - there were early trials and then suddenly there was a mass adoption.

"At the moment, there are only one or two devices as advanced as ours."

Wet-NZ technology used wave power rather than tidal power, he said.

Getting the project to this testing point was possible due to a US$2 million grant from the US Department of Energy and a partnership with US company Northwest Energy Innovations.

The New Zealand Government had also provided funding to get the project scaled up from proof-of-concept to prototype.

Wet-NZ had been refined based on the results of deployments at various sites around New Zealand, as well as extensive wave tank modelling.

IRL is a Crown Research Institute with the task of supporting New Zealand industry.

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