Wave technology study for Australian universities

Two Australian universities will partner to explore the potential of wave energy using wave energy devices.

The Centre for Ocean Engineering, Science and Technology (COEST) at Swinburne and the Australian Maritime College (AMC) at the University of Tasmania will explore the best ways of arranging wave arrays or farms, supported by $770,000 funding from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA).

Associate professor Richard Manasseh said there is no single established concept for generating electricity from ocean waves.

“Because the inherent motion of wind is in one dominant direction, a wind turbine requires only a single moving part to extract power from fluid air,” he said.

“However, the to-and-fro nature of waves in which the speed of the water is never steady and constantly reverses demands a more complex mechanism.”

Using a combination of mathematical modelling with laboratory experiments at the AMC’s wave-basin facility in Launceston, performance predictions will be formed using small arrays of wave energy converters (WECs).

WECs tap the ocean’s movements and are a source of renewable energy largely unaffected by the local weather, and of great potential value to future electricity markets.

Until now, almost all designs have assumed WECs behave as individuals. However, unlike wind turbines, WECs are coupled via sea-surface waves and so can bounce energy between each other. In some cases they are deliberately coupled underwater.

“Thus, an array of WECs could act together as one collective machine, with behaviour significantly different to an individual machine,” Mr Manasseh said.

The research will be used to create a software tool for gathering site-specific information and may also be used to obtain regulatory and planning approvals. It has the potential to be used around the world by wave energy technology developers to identify the best designs for ocean wave energy devices at selected sites.

“The outcome may also assist Australian wave power technology developers to compete in the rapidly-developing market overseas for these technologies, by giving them the ability to predict how large numbers of their machines would work together,” Associate Professor Manasseh said.