Last month, Gizmag was on the ground in Gibraltar as Eco Wave Power (EWP) inaugurated the first ever grid-connected wave power station in Europe. It was a big moment for the company, but only hinted at its plans for the future, with much larger efforts on the horizon. With the Gibraltar station off to a good start, Gizmag sat down with EWP's co-founders Inna Braverman and David Leb to discuss the present and future of the company.
While the company has big plans for the future, all of its recent efforts have been focused on Gibraltar's ammunition jetty. Construction started on the first-phase station at the beginning of the year, with testing taking place up until just a few weeks before the big switch-on.
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So, why the ammunition jetty in the first place? Well, according to company co-founder Inna Braverman, it's been a two-way learning process. A key part of EWP's appeal is how it tailors its solutions to the specific environment of a project, and this first experience of working on a grid-connected plant reflected that.
Over the years that the company has been developing its system, coming up with some eight different designs of floaters. The hardware installed on the jetty in Gibraltar is well suited to its environment, with a pointed design to split through waves, and the ability to gather power even in good weather.
"These floaters were made suitable in terms of the weight and size," Inna told Gizmag. "When we received the 15 years of wave data from the meteorological office, we saw that the waves here are pretty low. We had to make sure that when the waves are low, we still produce power."
The Gibraltar buoys are built to rise above the water to avoid taking damage, which is a solution that works well given the generally mild weather in the territory. The company has also come up with other storm protection solutions, such as lowering the floats into the water.
Gibraltar has an inefficient, island-style power grid, and the wave station is the first renewable energy solution to make its way to the territory. The experience with the jetty station allowed the government to get to grips with the green energy solution, paving the way for the upcoming expansion. Considering that the plant is the first grid-connected wave energy station in Europe, getting it up and running would likely be a learning curve for most governments.
EWP was also keen to reiterate its commitment to providing bespoke, low-impact energy solutions. Gibraltar's ammunition jetty wasn't quite the perfect location for the fledgling station, but the team was keen to respect the tranquil environment.
Some work needed to be done to the World War II platform before the buoys could be fixed in place, and the team opted to fit them close to the face of the rock, minimizing their visual impact. That decision slightly lowering the energy produced, as larger waves are present at the end of the jetty.
The jetty-based station is running at 100 KW, but the company is committed to providing the territory with 15 percent of its energy needs by 2020 – equal to 5 MW. The team has six months to optimize the existing station before the expansion project kicks off.
That planned increase means putting in more equipment, most notably a lot more buoys. The new floats won't sit on the ammunition jetty, but will be placed on a new marina a little north of the current site. That new location, which will include a lengthy cement arm, will be a lot more roomy, allowing for the future buoys to be much bigger, and therefore more efficient at harnessing energy.
Looking further forward, the next big project on EWP's roadmap is a new plant on the Pacific side of Mexico. The project is in the planning stages, with private investors committed to funding the effort. A number of environmental reports need to be conducted, submitted and approved before construction can start, with the approval process expected to take 12-18 months.
Like the smaller effort in Gibraltar, the planned Mexico station will be built in phases, starting with a 4.1 MW station. Once the whole system is complete, it'll be running at an impressive 25 MW. Unlike the Gibraltar station, the future effort will be fixed coastal pylons, rather than an existing coastal feature.
"This does raise the price," Inna commented. "It raised the price from US$1 million for our equipment, to about $2.4 million with the pylons, but even with that taken into account, the waves are good, and it's still cost-efficient."
The Mexican effort is far from the only project on the horizon, with plans to build stations in China, alongside 12.5 MW and 30 MW stations set to crop up in England and Scotland down the line.
Right now, the EWP team is stretched pretty thin, with the entire company consisting of 18 people working across several continents. As the projects and investors roll in, the company will grow up, taking on more staff to meet its growing commitments.
Assuming the ongoing success of the Gibraltar station, the company is now in the enviable position of being able to pick and choose where to head for future projects.
"We've got a lot of projects in the pipeline, and now it's just a matter of choosing where and what's going to come next," explained David. "For us, in the big scheme of things, Gibraltar is a small project, but in the present it's a huge project for us. We had to devote all our time to this. Now we can tweak it and work on the next big one."
Company website: Eco Wave PowerView gallery - 7 images