Today people are continually looking for ways to get energy through cleaner means than traditional methods such as coal or nuclear. However, technologies that have been used for decades under the realm of clean energy, such as dams, are now being questioned because of the negative impacts they have on the environment and people around where the dam is built. A couple of weeks ago I wrote about water turbines and their huge potential for generating electricity from the flow of rivers or from the power of tides (Alternatives to Dams: The Free Flow Kinetic Hydropower System). Today I’m going to be writing about harnessing power from the oceans waves, specifically through a system by Australia’s BioPower Systems called the bioWave. Let’s jump in and take a look at what this system is and how it works.
The bioWave system was designed around a concept called biomimicry. There are things in nature that have gone through a process of trial and error in order to come up with a solution that works best in nature. Biomimicry looks at what has worked in nature and tries to mimic it through modern technology. While BioPower Systems was in their design phase they looked at kelp and the way it stands up to the rough conditions of the ocean and survives. They paid specific attention to the way kelp sways in the ocean with every wave. Out of that observation came the bioWave.
The bioWave is made up of several components. The main component is the floats or “blades”. Within one unit there are several of these blades that serve to capture the motion of the ocean. The blades interact “with the rising and falling sea surface (potential energy) and the sub-surface back-and-forth water movement (kinetic energy)”. Just as kelp sways back and forth in the water with every wave so does the bioWave. Along with the blades there is a base foundation that is mounted to the ocean floor and has a pivot that can turn the unit so that it is in line with the wave direction as well as letting the blades sway. When the blades sway they convert the energy into electricity through an onboard generator and then the electricity is sent to the grid through cables on the ocean floor. The result is clean energy.
The bioWave has a number of components that set it apart from other systems that harness power from the waves. One of the biggest issues with these types of systems is that they break in the unpredictable and treacherous climate of the ocean. BioPower Systems came up with a unique solution in its design. When the waves get too rough a sensor is triggered and the blades fill with water. As the blades fill they get heavier and the whole arm pivots and lies down on the ocean floor to protect itself. As the ocean calms the water is released from the blades and they are filled with air making them stand back up. Sounds like a great solution to keep the unit from tearing itself apart under the extreme conditions of the ocean.
Another consideration that had to be given attention was how it will affect the surrounding environment and marine life. To this BioPower Systems says, “the slow motions of bioWAVE, and its smooth surfaces, should minimize any disturbance to the environment”. This explanation sounds nice, but we’ll have to see when they’re actually installed in the ocean. Something else we’re going to have to wait and see is how the environment and marine life will treat the system. Obviously they’ve done testing and have planned for these units being in the ocean, but the ocean is unpredictable and when you enter its world anything can happen.
Fortunately it looks like we’re not going to have to wait too long to see how these will work and survive in the ocean. At the end of 2011 the Victorian government of Australia awarded BioPower Systems $5 million for installation of the bioWave system in the oceans off of Australia. Also, I was thrilled to hear that California is currently working with BioPower Systems to get the bioWave system installed off the coast of San Francisco (where I’m from) to provide power to San Francisco’s grid. Hopefully the installation in Australia will be successful and lead to more of these installations around the world.
Overall this system sounds like a great idea that has a lot of potential for adding to the number of ways we get electricity from clean energy. I can’t wait to see the results from the installation in Australia, and see if California gives it a try. Whereas other technologies have failed to harness the ocean BioSystems hopes that by paying attention to nature and building their system around biomimicry they will be successful where others have failed. Here’s a short video showing the system and how it works. Hope you enjoyed the article. Leave me a comment and let me know what you think of this technology and its potential in the future of clean energy.