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US Govt funds NZ wave power prototype

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

Wellington, July 29 NZPA - A wave power prototype designed by researchers at a state science company has won a government grant of more than $2 million -- from the United States Government,

Wave Energy Technology New Zealand (WET-NZ) has developed a quarter-scale wavepower device which has been moored off Christchurch since 2006, producing 2kW of electricity..

The company is a collaboration between Industrial Research Ltd (IRL), and Power Projects Ltd, a Wellington-based company headed by wave energy expert John Huckerby.

It is already developing a half-scale version with funding received from the New Zealand Government's marine energy deployment fund, to be put in the water next year to produce 20kW of power.

Wave Energy has been holding discussions with a potential US-based partner, Northwest Energy Innovations of Portland, Oregon, which bid for the US Department of Energy's grant, one of 27 schemes to receive $37 million for "marine hydrokinetic" projects.

The new funding means Wave Energy will build and test a quarter-scale version of the device off the coast of Oregon, and carry out detailed modelling work in wave tanks at Oregon State University.

"We are delighted to receive this grant," Mr Huckerby said.

Power Projects and IRL would be able to add new capabilities to their research and deployment work in New Zealand from the international venture.

"Taken together our New Zealand and US-based activities will accelerate the design and development of our 100kW device and our programme towards commercialisation," he said in a statement. "Project work in both countries will cross-fertilise our development".

The New Zealand operation would be able to build up a staff of experts with expertise in marine energy design, development, deployment and operations, and the new funding should enable that expertise to be exported.

IRL commercial manager Gavin Mitchell said the funding also vindicated the approach taken by the company: "Our technology has significant advantages over much of the competition, which globally is considerable."

Eventually the company expects to have full-size generators designed to be moored in waters 130m - 50m deep along the nation's west coast, using a float to move a horizontal arm beneath the sea surface, "harvesting" energy from the oceanic swells hitting the coast.

It has previously estimated that a spar buoy costing about $3000 could drive a 65kW generator, at a generating cost of about 7c/kWh, competitive with conventional sources.

New Zealand straddles the southern hemisphere's "roaring forties" wind belt, which drives in energy-packed ocean swells born in the deep ocean, to start dissipating their energy once they reach water depths of about 50m.

According to researchers involved in the project, ocean waves represent a concentrated form of energy -- averaging 20kW per metre of wavefront -- at many sites around the coast, such as the west coast of Northland.

Separately, an American wave power company has estimated the sea south of Stewart Island has waves producing 100kW per metre of wave front -- one of the highest wave energy sites to be found.

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