More money washes into wave power

Orecon wants to take oil rigs and churn wave power with them. It won't be easy but more eyes are looking at wave power these days.

Tech Culture
An artist's rendering of the company's wave system Orecon

Right now, wave power is in the early experimental stages, but venture capitalists are lining up to be on the ground floor.

Orecon has lined up $24 million in funding from Advent Ventures, Venrock, Wellington Partners and Northzone Ventures to build a full scale prototype of its wave power machine and, if the results are positive, move toward commercial deployment.

The U.K.-based Orecon has devised a large-scale buoy for harvesting power from waves. In a nutshell, waves striking the device create pressure in a chamber, which is used to turn a turbine and create electricity. A single device will be capable of producing up to 1.5 megawatts of power. Orecon's system in part is based around the engineering devised to build offshore oil rigs. The system will produce power for a minimum of 25 years, the company says.

That's similar to the buoy being built by Ireland's WaveBob. WaveBob has a 1/4 scale prototype in the waters off Galway now and hopes to insert a full-scale device, which will produce over one megawatt of power, in the water in the next few years.

Most wave systems produce far less power--maybe 250 kilowatts. Although smaller devices are cheaper to make, larger devices have certain advantages. For one thing, because they are large, they can survive rugged seas better. Each device also produces more power, which means fewer devices and potentially less maintenance.

Both the UK and Ireland want to build local wave industries and harvest energy from the sea. Both countries bear the brunt of strong waves that cross the Atlantic. WaveBob CEO Andrew Parish also pointed out in a recent interview that this section of the Atlantic is awash in maritime engineering know-how.

Still, wave energy, like tidal energy, remains mostly in the potential stage because of the environmental challenges and the costs. Over the next two to three years, expect to see larger prototypes and more testing. Commercially produced wave power may begin to start crossing the grid sometime between 2010 and 2015.

It is interesting to see Venrock in the deal. The firm mostly concentrates on more exotic technologies that could go commercial. Recently, it has put money into fusion and clean diesel.

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