Finavera Renewables is not only making waves with its new technology—it’s hoping to ride those waves to prosperity. Finavera is a Vancouver-based company that hopes to harness ocean waves off the coast of Oregon to produce electricity. Finavera was granted the first license ever issued by the United States Federan Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) for a wave, tidal or current energy project.
Finavera designed the AquaBuOY, an enormous steel buoy that will generate electricity from the vertical motion of waves. According to Juliet Eilperin of the Washington Post, here is how it works: “The buoy, anchored three to 4.8 kilometers offshore, will convert the waves’ motion into pressurized water using large, reinforced-rubber hose pumps. As the buoy goes up the peak of the wave and down into its trough, it forces a piston in the bottom of the buoy to stretch and contract the hose pumps, pushing water through. This drives a turbine that powers a generator producing electricity, which would be shipped to shore through an undersea transmission line.”
Simple…Well, maybe not so simple…Operating equipment in the hostile environment of the open ocean can pose challenges. The power of moving water may overwhelm even the highest tech equipment. Eilperin talks of how, amid much fanfare, Verdant Power had placed turbines off New York City’s Roosevelt Island last December with promises to harness the tides of the East River and convert that energy into electricity; within a short time all six turbines were shut down for repair and redesign.
The Pelamis wave energy converter is Finavera’s most advanced device for long period waves such as those in the North Pacific ocean. There are many different wave energy converters and no clear leader in the technology. The power density from wave energy farms appears to be about 2 MW/km2.
Wave technology is likely to become a reliable power source by 2020.
Tapping the ocean’s power is just one of the many alternative energy sources being investigated by smart entrepreneurs on the heels of imposed government policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and dependence on foreign oil. Solar and wind power make up the best known and most researched methods, worldwide. Other, more obscure power generators include turning algae into diesel fuel, and getting energy from waste (e.g., leaves, tires and “car fluff”). There’s also geothermal and tidal energy. The U.S. is the world’s largest producer of geothermal electricity, with over 200 plants generating over 3,000 megawatts of energy. It’s an exciting time of mind-power to design our future of newly emerging technology.
Nina Munteanu is an ecologist, limnologist and internationally published author of award-nominated speculative novels, short stories and non-fiction. She is co-editor of Europa SF and currently teaches writing courses at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. Visit www.ninamunteanu.ca for the latest on her books.