Ocean waves now producing electricity

 By RP Siegel

When it comes to renewable energy, people usually think of solar and wind power, both of which have seen enormous growth. There are other types of renewable energy, however, that have equally vast potential. One of these is wave power…

This is a tremendously abundant inexhaustible resource, and while it’s true that it is only available to coastal areas, those also happen to be where the majority of people live.
There is some exciting news on this front. The Italian energy company Eni has successfully completed the installation of an Inertial Sea Wave Energy Converter (ISWEC) production unit, capable of converting energy generated by waves into electricity while adapting to various sea conditions. The result: highly continuous energy production. The unit was produced by Wave for Energy, a spinoff of Politecnico di Torino, a top university in Italy.

Eni's Inertial Sea Wave Energy Converter (ISWEC) unit production result of a joint effort between business and academic research

The 50-kW pilot plant was installed at the Ravenna offshore site by Eni’s Central Northern District. This installation will demonstrate Eni’s ability to utilize this renewable resource to power its offshore facilities, its ambition to provide renewable electricity from offshore generating hubs, and ultimately, its commitment to a new energy model that can promote environmentally, economically and socially sustainable development. It also showcases a clear example of the fruits of collaboration between business and academia as a way of bringing the newest technologies to market.

How ISWEC works

The ISWEC technology is based on a gyroscopic principle, which takes advantage of the rocking motion produced by the waves as they pass over the inertial buoy. This is distinct from other wave energy converters that rely on the vertical motion. It consists of four principal components: attenuator, buoyant, integrated gyroscopic system and active dynamic control. The active gyroscopic control allows the unit to capture more energy, making it more efficient than its competitors.

The four major components of the ISWEC technology: attenuator, buoyant, integrated gyroscopic system and active dynamic control

The 50 kW subscale (1:2) Ravenna pilot is far from a one-time, stand-alone effort, as evidenced by the execution of a joint agreement between Eni, CDP (Cassa Depositi e Prestiti), Fincantieri and Terna. The agreement between the four companies solidified their intention to develop and build wave power stations on an industrial scale, in order to  produce an industrial installation that is expected to be connected to an Eni offshore production site by 2020.
Not only will the initiative enable the companies to jointly support forthcoming projects, they will also be able to harness and share knowledge and expertise. As Eni CEO Claudio Descalzi explained at the signing: “the agreement is an important step forward toward building a new production system for renewable energy generated by wave power. 

Steps to zero-carbon future

This deal is part of our strategic decarbonization plan and stems from Eni’s focus on research, development and technologies aimed not only at making traditional operating processes more efficient but also at driving us to create new business segments in the energy sector”. Eni’s strategy to achieve net zero emissions in the upstream business by 2030 includes: the increase of  efficiency to minimize direct upstream CO2 emissions, to eliminate gas process flaring and reduce methane emission by 80% within 2025, a growth in low carbon sources with an increasing share of gas in the portfolio and biofuels, the increase of zero-carbon sources such as renewables and, in the longer term, magnetic fusion; a key role will be played by the deployment of new technologies aimed both at capturing and using carbon emissions of our operations and further investigating innovative solutions throughout all the company’s businesses.

The pilot plant installed at the Ravenna offshore site by Eni's Central Northern District

Descalzi also emphasizes how the collaboration between companies will empower them to leverage distinct skill sets to accelerate the development of technology; this deployment is part of an internal MaREnergy (marine renewable energy) initiative.
The company sees a significant opportunity in wave power due to its potential to provide power for offshore operations and beyond. The total energy potential of wave power around the world is equivalent to 86% of the 2017 global electric consumption in Twh. Another important metric for renewable energy is the capacity factor, which measures the percentage of theoretical power that will actually be delivered by intermittent sources. We have large investments in both solar and wind facilities.

Riding the most of wave power

Last year, as part of the investment on marine renewables, Eni deployed a PowerBuoy charging system, built by Ocean Power Technologies‘ system in the Adriatic. That unit is currently being used to provide power to sub-sea communications equipment.
The ISWEC generation system that has been selected for this latest project is an inertial floating offshore rotating mass, capable of extracting energy from the sea waves using a floating hull and the reacting inertial effect of a gyroscope. The so-called “cradle of energy”, is suitable for both medium and large offshore operations, up to MW scale. The Ravenna location, in the relatively mild Adriatic waters, is ideal for pilot testing, though areas with stronger wave action would be the eventual goal for commercial generation.
Although wave and tidal power production is minimal today, projections show it growing to 200 GW by 2050.

READ MORE: Wave after wave by Nicholas Newman

about the author
RP Siegel
Skilled writer. Technology, sustainability, engineering, energy, renewables, solar, wind, poverty, water, food. Studied both English Lit.and Engineering at university level. Inventor.