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Wave energy has an important role to play in the green energy mix, especially in tandem with wind and solar installations. Christopher Ridgewell, CEO of AW-Energy, tells us more.

The next few years could be a defining period for wave energy.

Energy grids need to diversify, and as the world starts to displace dispatchable fossil fuel based generation with intermittent renewable sources of power, it is becoming increasingly clear that the likes of solar and wind, on their own, may not be able to plug the gap.

This is where wave energy has its part to play.

Let’s briefly look at the US. Here, the theoretical annual energy potential of waves off American coastlines is estimated to be as much as 2.64 trillion kilowatt hours, which is the equivalent of 64 percent of the country’s electricity generation in 2018.

Meanwhile, the UK government anticipates that wave energy, in combination with tidal power, has the potential to deliver around 20 percent of the country’s electricity needs (around 30-50 gigawatts).

But if this potential is to be fully exploited, there are some sizable barriers that our sector must overcome.

The most obvious is maturity. The industry needs to operate with a laser focus on building commercial readiness, and gaining the financial backing of organisations with the resources required to reduce reliance on grants and subsidies from the likes of the European Union. This is paramount.

Once the industry gets the backing of these larger players, our journey will accelerate markedly. But before having the comfort to mobilise their resources these players wish to see projects in operation – a challenge for small teams.

Proving the potential

Much of AW-Energy’s recent work has been geared towards doing just this.

For instance, we are deeply involved in the EU-funded MegaRoller project, a collaborative innovation and research programme with several industry and academic parties which will generate extensive knowhow in the area of power take-off (PTO) design and control.

Its aim is to develop and demonstrate our PTO to generate grid compliant power more effectively from the large forces of slowly oscillating ocean waves. The system is developed in conjunction with oscillating wave surge converters, a class of wave power technology that operates below the sea’s surface.

One of the participants in the project, the Leibniz Institute for Neurobiology, is spearheading a particularly interesting component. This involves harnessing neurobiology to predict the height of waves several wave cycles into the future – an ability which, if the software is proven, will enable the PTO to run at optimal efficiency and maximise energy output.

Over in Portugal, 820 metres offshore from Peniche, we continue to monitor the performance of our WaveRoller installation that we installed in 2019.

Having proven the technology works in terms of energy generation, the past 18 months have been focused on demonstrating survivability. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve had to monitor it remotely, but so far the data is extremely promising – the system has been able to withstand extreme wave activity, with peak waves being above 12 metres in height.

The learnings from both projects will feed into another, potentially game changing initiative.

In November 2020, AW-Energy secured funding for our WaveFarm project from the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund through the Blue Economy Window programme.

Over a period of three years, we will develop processes to deliver the world’s first large-scale wave farm, with integrated WaveRoller unit arrays. By designing a scalable business and servicing model, it will make the uptake of wave energy installations far more commercially viable in the future, and could be the answer to some of the challenges mentioned earlier.

Our ambition is to pave the way for more commercial delivery of WaveRoller-powered wave farms.

The first steps are underway for rollouts across Europe and Asia, with moves already made. When fully exploited, it is an initiative that we believe will be worth several billion Euros annually.

Green hydrogen

We’re also busy working with numerous stakeholders in the green hydrogen space. Marine energy holds the greatest potential to enable constant low-cost green hydrogen, and AW-Energy’s WaveRoller process is the ideal partner for wind and solar installations.

As grids across Europe adjust to the EU’s new sustainable finance taxonomy regime, green hydrogen has an important role to play.

It is produced by using renewable energy (for example, combining wave energy with solar) to power electrolysis that splits water into its constituent parts – electrolysers and downstream processes are expensive, and wave energy provides the guarantee that the system will be operating at 100 percent for more of the time, with high stability and predictably.

We feel confident in presenting green hydrogen as a cost-effective power solution that will become a go-to choice for numerous sectors.

Thanks to the collective ingenuity of our supply chain, we believe we can deliver at a price of below $2 per kilo, which analysis suggests is the tipping point figure for industries such as steel manufacturing, fertiliser production, power generation and shipping, among others. In essence, plugging WaveRoller into a solar-powered green hydrogen plant would halve production costs and cut the required land by a factor of three.

Indeed, research shows that the low-carbon hydrogen market could be worth upwards of $25 billion by as soon as 2030, and according to the Hydrogen Council, $70 billion (which is less than five percent of global annual energy spend) would be enough to enable hydrogen to reach significant scale.

Another exciting component of this is our ability to add desalination processes onto the green hydrogen system.

AW-Energy has patented a dual-process system that can switch from electrolysis to desalinisation at times when energy capacity is reached and there is excess power. This provides the potential to supply fresh water for local agriculture, industry and communities, and represents another source of value from a financial perspective.

Looking ahead

I will return to the opening statement – that the next few years could be a defining period for wave energy.

As we continue to complete studies and work on developments with companies to integrate wave energy into green hydrogen installations, the proof of concept will be difficult for investors to ignore.

We believe the dial is shifting. The coming months and years will see projects reach critical conclusions and produce the sort of evidence that we need to fully exploit the potential that wave energy has to offer as the world reconfigures its energy mix.

This must be backed up by both political will and action from the bigger corporates. As we continue to witness extreme climatic events at greater frequencies, now is the time for resource-rich organisations to move off of the fence and help the industry ready itself for when society needs it.

In the meantime, AW-Energy will continue to operate with a laser focus on building value with the resources currently at its disposal.

Whether it is through green hydrogen deployment or wave farms, our ambition is for our wave energy technology to prevent at least 500 million tonnes a year of greenhouse gas emissions, something we feel is very achievable.

It is because of the fantastic work of what is a small team here at AW-Energy that I can make such statements with distinct optimism and confidence.

The industry has faced and continues to face both technical and financial challenges, issues which our team has responded to with tremendous resilience, ingenuity and agility. Without their dedication and resolve, we’d be much further away from converting wave energy’s potential into reality.