Spotlight On: Dr Michael Ottaviano

Carnegie Clean Energy chief executive officer Michael Ottaviano

“The future is here, it’s just unevenly distributed…”

When asked where he predicts Australia’s energy industry is heading, that’s the response from Carnegie Clean Energy chief executive officer Michael Ottaviano.

Michael, a technology junkie and trained metallurgical engineer, says the future looks like a lot of renewable energy and a lot of microgrids, simply put.

“We’re not going see much, if any, fossil-fuel generation built in this country ever again,” he says.

“But the future energy mix can be delivered through a combination of renewables and microgrid-style technologies; it will be increasingly distributed; a lot of it will behind the meter on people’s roofs and in people’s garages; a lot of it will be at node; and some of it will be large-scale utility style projects distributing around fringes of grid.

“There will be a lot more complexity as a result and it will be much more organic as a result. And a lot more control will be given to the consumers.”

With a raft of innovative projects dotted around the country, Carnegie Clean Energy is more than ready to tackle the tremendous transformation occurring in the industry.

It is one of the only companies in the world to deliver wave, solar, battery storage and desalination via microgrids. And it delivers it well.

Michael established Carnegie Clean Energy a decade ago to commercialise wave power technology, CETO.

Since then, the company has been making waves around Australia with a portfolio of unique and innovative projects across a broad spectrum.

The real superstar of Carnegie’s portfolio, however, is its Albany Wave Energy Project in Western Australia, which is set to be the first commercial-scale of its kind in Australia.

Carnegie has invested more than $150 million into the development of its CETO technology and is currently testing the technical performance of its CETO 6 generation of wave energy units – a process that has taken many years and many prototypes.

Australia’s long coastline exposed to the southern ocean, or what Michael calls a “wave energy machine”, creates a massive opportunity.

“Wave energy is completely untapped in Australia at the moment,” Michael says.

“We’ve got the world’s best wave energy resource bar none. The southern ocean is constantly creating swell and delivering it to our coastlines.

“There really is an opportunity to tap into a new renewable energy resource that can be highly available and highly reliable.”

But while we may have an abundance of this valuable resource right on our doorstep, it doesn’t come without challenges.

“There currently isn’t a commercially viable technology to do it, and the reason why there isn’t is two-fold,” he says.

“Technically it is challenging – it’s an energetic environment, it’s in the water, it’s offshore, it’s remote, it’s wet, and therefore, there’s some engineering challenges with it. But, there’s nothing that can’t be solved and it’s no more challenging than coal or gas extraction in the ocean.

“The real crux of it is, like any power generation technology, it takes a lot of time and a lot of capital to commercialise a power generation technology – that doesn’t matter if its wind or solar or coal or gas.”

Carnegie has been able to keep its head above water due to a heavy focus on both the technical and commercial elements of the sector.

Carnegie’s CETO 6 technology

The company has meticulously tested and retested its groundbreaking technology, and while its fruition is still a little while away, the company is moving further than any other has in the sector.

“We’ve used a relatively conservative approach,” Michael explains.

“The reason CETO 6 is called CETO 6 is because we’ve been through five previous iterations of CETO technologies.

“The way we operate technically is we do a huge amount of work computationally on supercomputers, so we do a large amount of modelling in a virtual ocean so we can test as many ideas and make as many mistakes as we need to in the virtual world before we then emerge into the physical world.

“We then build a prototype and we go into the ocean and we test that, collect the data, use that data to validate our computational models and that’s our standard development process.

“We’ve been through that five times and each time we gain confidence in our ability to predict the motion and the loads and the performance of our systems in the ocean and therefore each time we can make these units bigger, better, more efficient, more powerful and cheaper per energy output.”

What started as a very small system, just a metre in diameter and a kilowatt in power, has grown to a 25m-diametre system producing more than a megawatt of power.

“The project is really about demonstrating the technical performance of our CETO 6 generation of wave energy units. It’s the biggest wave energy unit in the world, the most advanced wave energy technology in the world, and we’ll be putting that into the ocean in summer 2019/20 off Albany.”

Michael says even though the company is 10 years into the development of the CETO technology, it is still early days.

“If you look back – how long did it take for solar to get to where it is now? And how long did it take for wind to get where it is? We’re still at the early stages of this journey from the full commercialisation point of view,” he says.

“We don’t need to be the company that builds every wave farm ever, or we’re setting ourselves up to fail. What we want to do is prove it is technically and commercially viable.

“We’d be happier if in 10 years time there was a dozen companies out there building wave energy projects using our technology, which would be fantastic.”

Michael is confident about the future of not only wave energy, but renewable energy, in Australia.

“I am clearly an optimist at heart – forget about wave energy, you wouldn’t be getting renewable energy in Australia for the past 10 years if you weren’t an optimist.

“But what we know now, looking at where wind and solar and now batteries has gotten to, is we knew this was coming. We just didn’t know when.

“And we’re right now building more solar, wind and batteries than we’ve ever built in the history of this country right at this moment. So, it’s happening in those sectors and it will inevitably happen in wave, so long as Carnegie continues to deliver and government continues to support the industry as well.

“We’ve had great support from the Federal Government through ARENA, great support from the state government of Western Australia as well, and great support from our shareholders and that’s the sort of support that needs to continue. Then, if we can get it right, the unique opportunity for Australia isn’t just to build our own wave energy projects, its actually to own this technology and export this technology to other countries.

“Rather than always being a technology taker, we can be a technology maker. And that would be fantastic.”

Away from the ocean, Carnegie Clean Energy has also been making significant advancements with a number of land-based renewable energy projects.

The Northam Solar Farm is a 10MW grid-tied project in a small farming community east of Perth. It is the biggest solar farm for Carnegie, and it’s the biggest currently in Western Australia.

The project, constructed by Carnegie’s subsidiary Energy Made Clean in joint venture with Lendlease, is unique in that it is the first merchant renewable energy project in the state.

The project is also being delivered in ownership/partnership with Indigenous Business Australia – an aboriginal government corporatised body that invests indigenous funds into infrastructure projects.

“It is very exciting to have indigenous investment. It is the first time they have ever invested in a renewable project which is great,” Michael says.

The project is expected to be up and running by the end of the year.

Carnegie is also delivering a number of microgrid and battery projects, including two for the Department of Defence.

Construction and commissioning of the Garden Island microgrid project – a 2MW solar, 2MW battery project located on Garden Island, home to the biggest naval base in the country – is about to be completed.

“We’re supplying power from that project under a long-term offtake agreement with the Department of Defence and it is a very innovative one as well because it can operate in islanded mode,” Michael says.

Moving to the Top End, Carnegie is delivering a similar project for the air force.

The company will design, construct, install and integrate a solar, diesel and battery energy storage system (BESS) microgrid at the Delamere Air Weapons Range, located 400km south of Darwin. It is expected to be operating by mid-2018.

Another exciting microgrid project delivered by Carnegie is, quite literally, out of this world.

Located in the middle of remote Western Australia, Carnegie is delivering a 1.6MWp solar facility in combination with a 2.6MWh battery energy storage system capable of diesel functionality to power the CSIRO’s Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder.

CSIRO’s Square Kilometre Array

Once complete, it will be the world’s most powerful radio-telescope system, powered by the most sophisticated solar/storage/diesel energy system in the world.

“It’s a radio frequency silenced area because they are trying to detect very faint radio frequencies from outer space,” Michael says.

“It’s really cool, but the challenge for us is, electrical generation equipment produces radio frequencies so we had to enclose our entire system in a faraday cage, which hasn’t been done before.”

In March, CSIRO announced US astronomers had detected a signal from the first stars to have emerged in the early universe about 180 million years after the Big Bang from this very site.

It seems Carnegie is a stickler for out-of-the-ordinary projects, with several more innovative and exciting endeavours on the horizon.

“We just announced winning a couple of more cool innovative projects, including a solar farm in NSW,” Michael says.

“In itself, a 5MW solar farm wouldn’t be that interesting, other than it’s being built on the site of a former landfill waste project. So, the foundations are interesting and different there.

“And then there’s a really big 5MW battery for Western Power. Located in a regional town, Kalbarri, it will be the biggest battery on the grid in Western Australia.

“We also recently announced a 2MW battery for the old General Motors Holden manufacturing plant in South Australia.”

As our country’s energy system begins to transition, it is companies like Carnegie Clean Energy that are lighting the way towards a cleaner, more innovative and decentralised energy system.