WA project seeks to demonstrate ‘almost limitless’ potential of ocean energy

Albany’s Historic Whaling Station – the proposed microgrid site for the NERA project. Image: NERA

The southern tip of Western Australia will soon be the focus of an ocean energy project which is hoping to match end-users to ocean energy solutions and eventually build a “physical marketplace using an integrated microgrid approach” – though exactly what this involves remains somewhat vague.

From pv magazine Australia

A project seeking to demonstrate the potential of ocean energy in Australia was unveiled today at  the Australian Ocean Energy Group’s Market Summit in Hobart. 

The project is being proposed near Albany, on Western Australia’s southernmost tip, and at this stage involves a feasibility study looking into matching markets to ocean energy solutions via an online platform. 

The project is being led by the Australian Ocean Energy Group cluster, which was established with support from NERA (National Energy Resources Australia). It hopes to illuminate the  benefits of integrating ocean energy with other renewables, including offshore wind.

The project will unfold in two stages, if found to be feasible, the second stage of which will see the development of “a physical, visitable marketplace” which will showcase an integrated ocean energy microgrid. 

“Using an integrated microgrid approach, a working, pilot-scale ocean energy system will be created as a world-first offshore energy marketplace,” the announcement says, though precisely what this means remains rather opaque. It seems the marketplace is likely a modelling exercise from real world data rather than any actual installation of ocean technology. Clarification has been sought. 

There is already a project looking to create an ocean energy centre, named Marine Energy Research Australia, in Albany being led by the University of Western Australia (UWA) and backed by funding from the state government. It isn’t clear whether this NERA project will cooperate or build on this work, though again clarification is being sought. 

The promise of ocean energy is neither new nor mastered, with attempts to harness its power documenting all the way back to 1799. Since then, thousands of patents have been filed and as many inventors risen and fallen. 

In Australia, there are a handful of companies grappling with the technology, including Carnegie Clean Energy. Carnegie had been involved in UWA’s Marine Energy Research Australia project before the company went into voluntary administration in 2019. It has since bounced back and is again looking to further ocean energy in Australia.

Western Australian company Carnegie has developed ‘resonator’ wave energy technology. Image: Carnegie Wave

Carnegie’s journey illustrates some of the challenges ocean energy expert Richard Manasseh, Swinburne Professor of Fluid Dynamics, outlined to pv magazine Australia earlier this year. He noted the scale and cost were the most problematic aspects of ocean energy projects, inhibited the technology’s takeoff more than actual technological issues.

“The machines don’t work at all unless they are gigantic,” Manasseh said. “So there’s a mismatch between the amount of capital companies tends to have and the size of what they have to build.” Wave energy machines can cost anywhere from a few hundred thousand to a few million to build, depending on the design’s sophistication and efficiency.

Stephanie Thornton, who heads up the Australian Ocean Energy Group cluster, echoed these sentiments saying the four main barriers to the adoption of ocean energy are awareness, accessibility, affordability and commercial project delivery.

While these issues have set back the technology in the past, Alex Ogg, NERA’s Ocean Energy Program Manager, says the ocean has “almost limitless potential to produce clean energy more consistently and predictably than any other source.”

“Energy from our oceans has been too often overlooked. What also sets ocean energy apart is its ability to be integrated with other renewables — from discrete blue economy applications today to multi-use offshore energy parks in our future — adding huge value, consistency and complementary energy to the renewable supply,” Ogg added.

Energy consultancy Xodus Group is supporting the development of the feasibility study for NERA’s marketplace concept, which seeks to draw data from existing wave and tidal energy projects “to mix and match end-users to proposed ocean energy system integrations and potential providers.”

Given that the project is expecting to develop its second stage, the “physical marketplace,” in Albany in 2023 – 2024, it would suggest no real life ocean energy machines will be submerged in West Australian seas.

Nonetheless, the announcement outlines the stage two microgrid “will include a combination of wind and wave energy converters, solar (onshore and/or offshore), storage and application technologies including green hydrogen production, desalination capability and EV charging.”

Another large ocean energy modelling project was announced earlier this year, involving researchers from Melbourne’s Swinburne University, Adelaide University, and the University of New South Wales working in collaboration with Victoria’s Moyne Shire Council and Western Australia’s Mid West Ports Authority. It is looking into whether ocean energy devices could be used to protect Australia’s vulnerable coastlines.

Author: Bella Peacock