Even though it’s a tough place to extract energy, several research start-ups have tried over the past decade to harness the immense lunar power of the oceans.
Wave Swell Energy's unusual UniWave 200 is an on-shore sea platform that uses an artificial blowhole formation to create air pressure changes that drive a turbine and feed energy back to shore. In July, after a year of testing, the company reported excellent results.
Sweden-based Eco Wave Power announced in February, that the first of 10 floats has been successfully installed on the sea wall at Jaffa Port in Israel, marking an important milestone for the company's second grid-connected wave energy harvesting project.
In late August, another startup has announced the results of a 10-year set of tests on wave energy generation. The company, Sea Wave Energy Ltd (SWEL), is making some amazing claims as to the cost and scaling of their invention—Waveline Magnet.
In the simplest terms, the Waveline Magnet is a long, modular chain of plastic floats designed to sit on top of the water, lined up pointing directly into the waves.
These chains of floats move in a serpentine motion when waves pass through, following the movement of the water. The floats are connected by lever arms to inflexible, non-buoyant spine parts rather than directly to one another. The spine is relatively stationary while the floats move with the waves, and the lever arms move the electrical generators inside the spine units both upward and downward.
As a wave first hits the Waveline Magnet, the system gets a read on the size and speed of the wave, allowing it to fine-tune the power extraction at each generator as the wave moves down the line. SWEL says this machine can work in "all wave heights," and that "harsh wave conditions do not negatively affect the device's performance, but in contrast, enhance it, without survivability complications."
Over the past ten years, SWEL has built prototypes both in wave tanks (University of Plymouth and University of Cyprus) and also open ocean deployments. Now comes the company’s claim of energy generation volume and cost. Much of this information will have to be proven over the next year or two, but if they are right, we could be in for some revolutionary developments in the carbonless generation of energy.
The CEO of SWEL, Adam Zakheos, is quoted in a press release as saying "... we can show how a commercial-sized device using our technology will achieve a Levelized Cost of Energy (LCoE) less than 1c€(US$0.01)/kWh, crushing today's wave energy industry reference value of 85c€(US$0.84)/kWh." SWEL claims that "one single Waveline Magnet will be rated at over 100 MW in energetic environments." The company has produced a video to show how the Waveline Magnet works.
LCoE, of course, is a financial statistic that takes into account all initial capital and continuous operating costs throughout the project's duration. It would be utterly revolutionary if these devices had an LCoE of one penny per kWh (US$10/MWh). They would create power for less than half the price of solar and wind. If that LCoE is accurate, according to Lazard's statistics, it'd even outperform gas, coal, nuclear, geothermal, or pretty much any other known energy generation source.
If SWEL lives up to its promises, the world is in for nothing less than a clean energy revolution. However, there are plenty of bad-faith operators, wishful thinking, and unrealistic expectations in the market as investors line up to take part in green energy moonshots. And if the many tests conducted by SWEL had produced the kinds of results that could have predicted some of the cheapest and cleanest energy in the world, then, yeah, we'd expect to see some Gates-level investment coming in, and many more people working on projects of increasing scale.
So, for now, we'll remain skeptical, hoping that this is the one that surprises us, and inviting SWEL to make us eat our words as soon, and as hard as possible. We’d love this to be one of the good news stories of the 21st century.