First Ocean Wave Energy Plant in Europe Turns On

June 3, 2016 | Comments

Recently, Europe’s energy grid just made its first connection to a wave energy power plant. It was ceremoniously “switched on” by the Chief Minister of Gibraltar, Hon. Fabian Picardo and by the Minister of Health, Environment and Climate Change, Hon. Dr. John Cortes.

The Wave Energy Power Plant project was purchased by the Gibraltar Electrical Authority (GEA) and the engineering firm behind it is Eco Wave Power, an Israeli company.

“We had some pretty foul weather over the winter and I am happy to say that your installation has survived and that’s a great thing,” said Michael Caetano, the CEO of the GEA, in reference to the wave energy mechanism’s resistance to storm weather, as rough ocean behavior is a severe setback in wave energy technology.


How Do Waves Produce Electricity?

The Wave Energy Power Plant consists of an array of buoys that are fastened to a dock. The buoys are strategically shaped in order to capture the generating power of both the change of water level and of incident flow.

photo collage

The buoys are fully equipped with sensors which continuously monitor the performance of the system and the surrounding ocean environment, transmitting data to shore in real time. (Image courtesy of Eco Wave Power.)

The buoys are connected from a set of arms that capture the up-and-down motion and deliver it to a hydro-pneumatic system on shore. The on-shore plant nearby channels this power towards a fluid-pressurized turbine, generating electricity.


The Wave Energy Plant’s Protection System Against the Powerful Ocean

The system’s protection mechanism is one of its key features, as constant exposure to the ocean is one of the greatest challenges in the wave energy technology sector.

When the movement of the waves shows characteristics of an incoming storm, the system automatically sends signals to the buoys to either lift them above water or submerge them below the surface, effectively preventing physical damage.

Collage of Protection

By implementing an automatic sensory system that deactivates the buoys during rough sea weather, the physical stresses on the mechanism is significantly decreased, extending its life span. (Image courtesy of Eco Wave Power.)

The buoys also have built-in anti-corrosion systems that includes, as per Eco Wave Power’s website, “an optimum application of protective coatings and an advanced arrangement of cathodes.” It predicts that this system is capable of protecting the metal against the corrosive sea water for up to 30 years.

Rough weather and chemical corrosion are only a few of the many stresses that the buoys regularly undergo. Another factor that must be considered is incident waves, or the sudden occurrence of waves that are abnormally high.

A complex system of hydraulic dampers allows for some of the potential energy to be captured during an incident wave, while also preventing hydraulic overloading.

One of the key advantages to Eco Wave Power’s design is that most of the wave energy system is located on-shore. The only mechanisms that are actually touching the water are the buoys and their attached pistons. This makes regular maintenance easier and means operators have more control over the system’s functionality.


Energy-Optimization Features

The buoy-piston mechanism has a number of maneuvering abilities that automatically activate so that the system can adjust itself according to the shifting shoreline.

This includes moving the buoys vertically up and down according to the rising and lowering sea levels. They can also move side to side so that their angle is perpendicular to the oncoming waves.


The maneuvering abilities of the buoys allow for the optimum energy efficiency as they maximize their ability to capture the waves’ energy. (Image courtesy of Eco Power Wave.)


Making Waves  in Energy Technology

The wave energy plant currently delivers up to 100 kW of power. Currently, plans are in place to expand this to a five-MW operation, which would supply 15 percent of Gibraltar’s electricity.

Wave energy is still a budding technology and it will likely take years before becoming an industry norm. The first commercial wave energy plant in the world was only released a year before in Perth, Western Australia, and there are already plans in the making to upgrade the facility.

“We need to move away from fossil fuels and the world is not going to move away from fossil fuels until we actually figure out we can make [wave energy] less expensive, easier to maintain and that we make money and create jobs,” said David Leb, founder and CEO of Eco Wave Power.

To learn more about Eco Wave Power’s technology and future innovations, see the website.


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