A Melbourne-based company behind a successful wave energy trial has pulled the plug on staying in Australia and, once it completes the decommissioning of its prototype, plans to shop its designs to an international market.
- An Australian clean energy innovation trial is wrapping up off the coast of King Island in the Bass Strait
- The wave energy technology trial was a success, and now the machine's components are being dismantled for recycling
- The company behind it says it will take the designs overseas, as Australia isn't ready to invest
Wave Swell Energy chief executive Paul Geason said he was “delighted” with the results of the multi-million-dollar project, and believed the technology would become an important part of future global electricity production.
Mr Geason said a lack of political and financial support from both state and national governments has meant the country will miss out on becoming home to the “world-leading” technology.
“We are an Australian, a Tasmanian invention. Australia's an important market for us … we'd dearly love to set up here,” he said.
“Ideally, Australia would become home to a world-leading manufacturing capability for these wave energy converters.”
“But right now … there are other markets in the world that are further advanced. Frankly, it would be irresponsible for us not to participate in those opportunities.”
An Australian first
In late 2020, Wave Swell Energy constructed a 1,000-tonne generator at Tasmania's Port of Bell Bay, with the aim of harnessing the relentless power of the Bass Strait near King Island.
The two-part structure, designed as a type of artificial blowhole, was then tugged for 40 hours over to waters near Grassy on King Island's east coast where it began harvesting electricity and feeding it into the local grid.
Its wave energy technology is based on the concept of an oscillating water column (OWC).
The OWC is an artificial blowhole consisting of a chamber that is open underneath the waterline. As waves pass through, the water rises and falls inside, forcing the air to pass by a turbine at the top of the chamber — this turbine generates electricity.
Electricity from the unit was delivered to shore by a subsea cable connected to King Island's 11-kilovolt distribution system.
After a year, the trial was declared a success, marking the first time in Australian history the chaos and power of the ocean had reliably generated electricity for homes.
It followed numerous failed projects including a wave generator that sank and rusted for seven years in South Australian waters, and a second generator made by the same company that sank near NSW's Port Kembla.
Only ever intended as a limited pilot run, the unit was decommissioned this week, kicking off with the complex task of floating the structure that has sat on the sea floor and towing it about 2 kilometres inshore.
“It's been sitting in that location on the seabed under its own weight for over two years now,” Mr Geason said.
“It was important to be able to float the unit successfully … I can't tell you how my spirits were raised when we were informed by the local team it was floating. It was extraordinary.”
He said the next step would be to build a 30-metre land bridge out to the unit, where a crew would spend the next three to four months disassembling and recycling all the components.
He said the electrical systems would be salvaged, while the concrete components would be crushed and used by King Island Council for road repairs.
“It was a pretty hectic couple of days,” Mr Geason said, speaking on Tuesday evening.
“It's essentially a mobile power station that can be re-floated, so we're really excited to have proven that.
“When you think about the challenges in recycling solar … wind turbine blades … We also thought it was important to show that we could 100-per-cent recycle the kit.”
Despite the success of the pilot in Australian waters, Mr Geason said the company would be setting its sights on the overseas market, meaning the technology is unlikely to be feeding Australian homes in the near future.
“The next step for us … it's really about scaling up, it's really about getting more units and bigger units into the water,” he said.
He explained that while Australia's oceans were perfect for the technology, the political scene was not.
He said he had high hopes for the European market, where progressive policies and political funding made the market alluring for new energy technology.
A federal Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water spokesperson confirmed the government had contributed $4.03 million to the pilot.
The funding was part of a $63.8 billion commitment to 16 wave or marine energy projects worth $148 million in total.
The spokesperson said the government had also recently set aside $3 billion for renewables, including clean energy component manufacturing, but made no comment on the Wave Swell Energy generator seeking investment overseas.