Ocean Power Backed by EIB Loan Moves Closer to ‘Bankability’

  • Finnish company uses underwater hinged panel to generate power
  • Company planning for 300 megawatts of wave power sales

The two-century old dream of harnessing the power of the sea came closer to commercial reality after the European Investment Bank backed a Finnish company with ambitions to deploy machines that generate electricity in six countries.

AW-Energy Oy, which also has the support of the nation’s biggest utility, Fortum Oyj, said it expects its could sell as many as 300 megawatts of its WaveRollers in the coming years. The EIB on Wednesday invested 10 million euros ($11 million) in the company to spur the commercialization of the technology.

Power generated from ocean waves has captured scientific attention since at least 1799, when the first patents were filed in France. While scores of demonstration projects have tried harnessing the sea’s energy, the technology hasn’t yet caught on at a utility scale because of its expense and technical difficulty. AW-Energy says its machine using a hinged panel fixed to the seabed is ready for widespread use.

“The tech is commercially mature,” Chief Executive Officer John Liljelund said in a phone interview from Brussels, adding that the machine is due to receive a safety certificate from Lloyd’s Register this month, increasing its “bankability.”

If it works at a big scale, wave power would generate huge amounts of electricity without producing greenhouse gases. In 2012, researchers at the German utility EON SE estimated 2.1 terawatts of could be captured along global coastlines. 

Sea Power

WaveRoller is one of several coastal-power technologies seeking a broader commercial footing. DCNS SA, the French warship maker, in 2013 agreed to collaborate with Ocean Thermal Energy Plc on generating power using differences in sea temperature. Sweden’s Seabased AB is selling a different near-shore technology based on floating buoys. Britain and France are working on tidal lagoons that generate power.

For now, the machines being installed are small. AW-Energy is about to start a 350-kilowatt unit off the Portuguese coast, near Peniche, which will form the basis of a 5.6 megawatt undersea power park using 16 WaveRollers, Liljelund said. 

Its objective is to sell more than 50 units in the next four years. It has plans to install power generators anchored on the seabeds of six countries. 

Under development for almost a quarter century, the WaveRoller was inspired by a Finnish professional diver, Rauno Koivusaari, after he observed in 1993 how the power of the sea effortlessly rocked the hulk of a wrecked ship back and forth. 

Tidal Surge

AW-Energy’s WaveRoller harnesses the so-called surge behavior of waves as they flatten and strengthen when approaching the shoreline.

AW-Energy is based in 22 kilometers (14 miles) northeast of Helsinki in Vantaa, Finland. Its other projects in various stages of planning or execution are located in France, Ireland, Chile, Mexico and Asia, according to the CEO. 

Fortum and DCNS SA in 2013 agreed to install a 1.5 megawatt demonstration WaveRoller off the Brittany coast. Last year the company signed an agreement with Mexican clean power developer Grupo Enal to develop a 10-megawatt wave energy project off the Pacific coast.

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