Renewable Wave Power is a semi-submersible, multi-axis wave energy converter that is specifically designed for the waters off of the Orkney Islands in Scotland. The prize comes with US $3170 that could be as much as $47 550 if the technology takes the global James Dyson Award.
Sam Etherington, the project’s engineer, was inspired by the variability of the ocean while kite surfing and sailing off of Cumbria in Northwest England.
In wave tanks at Lancaster University, the chain of loosely coupled pistons was able to absorb forces from all directions. The conditions in the tank were modeled after the data taken from buoys off the Orkney Islands.
But a successful trial in a university wave tank is not necessarily a breakthrough towards harnessing the energy of the ocean. “The real test for a device is its cost of energy,” David Forehand from the Institute for Energy Systems at Edinburgh told the BBC.
Scotland is aiming to be the world’s leader in wave and tidal power, but it is still largely in the development and commercialization stage. The Scottish government has the Saltire Prize, which will award $15.8 million in 2017 to one of the wave and tidal energy companies competing for the prize. The winner will be the technology that has the greatest volume of electrical output over 100 gigawatt-hours over a two-year period using only the sea.
Renewable Wave Power has many steps before it could compete for an award such as the Saltire Prize, however. Etherington’s submission to Dyson noted that he would require further tests to verify the initial results. If those tests were successful, Etherington would commission a scaled-up rig to be tested at the European Marine Energy Center on Orkney Island, which has a variety of test facilities for wave and tidal powers in various stages of development.
Despite a decade of companies testing at the European Marine Energy Center, most commercial applications are still quite small. One installation at Bangor Hydro Electric Company in Maine, for example, powers about 25 to 30 homes.
There are various challenges with tidal and wave power generation, such as developing components that can withstand years of salty, turbulent waters and competing with other renewable energy sources that have seen significant price drops in recent years.
Although there are many challenges with the many different technologies that have been proposed to harness ocean energy, Scotland estimates that signed lease agreements could produce up to 16 gigawatts of marine energy from the Pentland Firth and Orkney waters by 2020.
Photo Credits: James Dyson Foundation, Mitch Payne/Getty Images