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New wave technology a potential major source -

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New wave technology a potential major source of energy

The CETO process consists of hundreds of underwater buoys, each attached to a pump. Movement of the
buoys sends pressurised water to shore for use in generators or desalination plants. Tim Sawyer
estimates 35% of Australia's energy needs is practically and economically extractable now.


Robyn Williams: First stop the west, Fremantle, where the Carnegie Corporation launched its new
wave energy plant last Monday. The technology promises to provide a huge proportion of our needs in
the most unobtrusive fashion. Let's join oceanographer Tim Sawyer.

Let's just describe the devices, because I always thought with wave power you had something on the
surface, like duckies bobbing up and down. What you've got are buoys underwater. Could you describe

Tim Sawyer: Essentially it's a buoy that's about one to two metres underwater which is then
attached via a flexible tether to a positive displacement pump, essentially like an inverted bike
pump really. As the buoy moves around with the inertia of the waves, so with the water particles it
follows that elliptical motion. On the upstroke, as the buoy is going up, it pulls the flexible
tether, drives the pump and pressurises sea water to shore for subsequent power generation and/or
reverse osmosis.

Robyn Williams: And do you have some actual buoys in the water here off Fremantle?

Tim Sawyer: There's two at the moment, marked with special markers. They're instrumented up to
measure pressure and flow, and then that's compared against the wave rider buoy which is also in
our lease area so we can work out how much energy we're extracting, improve the design. The
president site is only eight metres, so it's very shallow, you get a 3.5-metre swell but which
creates a lot of energy in that environment. It's not ideal for us but it's good for survivability
as well.

Robyn Williams: And to demonstrate. Would there be anything above the water that you look at when
they're all installed?

Tim Sawyer: On the devices themselves there'll be nothing above the water, but as far as maritime
safety concern then the lease area will no doubt be marked by lighting and marks so that people
know it's there and that it's a potential hazard.

Robyn Williams: What about the power itself from the waves? Obviously the southern hemisphere has
got a special endowment because you've got nothing in the way of great big blocks of land impeding
the southern currents, so off W.A. you'll have a huge amount, won't you.

Tim Sawyer: There's a large amount...a lot of the storms come through the Southern Ocean from the
south-west into W.A. hitting the coast. Where we're standing now in Fremantle, it's obviously
protected by Rottnest Island, so people have an impression that this is the wave energy, whereas if
you could just go to the other side of Rottnest Island it's quite a different proposition. Rottnest
Island I think is very rarely recorded below one metre, even on the calmest of days when there
looks like there's no swell.

Robyn Williams: One metre bobbing up and down, and that's good for you, is it?

Tim Sawyer: That's where we generate from, one to four metres, and that's significant wave height
as well which is the top third of the highest waves.

Robyn Williams: Do you have sufficient power around the coast of Australia?

Tim Sawyer: In terms of wave energy there's a large resource. There's 171,000 megawatts is the
theoretical wave energy, that is all the way round the southern coastline of Australia. Of that we
believe 10% is economically and practically accessible. So we're talking around 17,000 megawatts or
17 gigawatts.

Robyn Williams: What about the project demonstration in Albany, what's there?

Tim Sawyer: Albany has got a fantastic resource, it's a very open, exposed location. It's always
above one metre, it's never gone below, it's frequently above two, three, four metres, so it's
large wave energy.

Robyn Williams: 100% generation, in other words.

Tim Sawyer: 100% availability of resource, and then from that we'll extract a proportion, and of
that proportion we'll lose a certain amount of energy efficiency. But we should be generating nigh
on 100% of the time.

Robyn Williams: Okay, so, project; if you've got this sort of system, the buoys around Australia
installed, what percentage could you provide of our needs, our energy needs, in the future?

Tim Sawyer: Of the current energy consumption in Australia we estimate 35% is practically and
economically extractable now and I say that because there are certain sites around Australia which
just aren't accessible, there's no towns nearby, there's no grid infrastructure. So if we just take
into account where the existing grid is around W.A. along the south coast, it's where we can
practically deploy, get the power back to shore, with minimal environmental impact as well. So,
around 35%.

Robyn Williams: So a third of our needs, that's a pretty impressive claim. Going back to the
technology, what you're doing essentially is producing high pressure water which comes ashore from
your buoys, turns a turbine, may actually get some sort of desalination going as well, and it's as
simple as that.

Tim Sawyer: That's the idea. The idea is to keep everything in the water, simple, no electronics,
no external moving parts, rotating blades or anything similar, keep it with standard materials and
then bring sea water to shore. So we've got no lubricants, sea water is the lubricant. Sea water is
also the energy fluid, if you like, that we're using to drive the power.

Robyn Williams: And once it's come aboard, turn the turbine, and it's out to sea again.

Tim Sawyer: That's right, the same sea water is put straight back out to sea, nothing is added to
it, nothing is taken away. In fact we're also working on a closed loop system as well.

Robyn Williams: There's all those buoys, you've got the pilot plant more or less set up, when's it
going to happen?

Tim Sawyer: We will have the first full-scale test device off Rottnest or Garden Island next year,
that's what we're working on now, and then following on from there very quickly by 2011 we'll be
generating power in our first five-megawatt demonstration plant.

Robyn Williams: And the interest from the politicians?

Tim Sawyer: It's been very high and increasing constantly. We've a lot of support in terms of the
facility we've put down at Fremantle, a lot of support from the Albany City Council in terms of the
land lease, D.P.I. obviously have gone to our licence area as well so we can have a look at the
resource. So it looks promising and I think Australia is also getting more encouraged by
renewables, deploying more as we speak.

Robyn Williams: And those buoys themselves, as they're lying there, can they last for a long time?

Tim Sawyer: We're working on 20 to 30 years lifetime. One of the issues is storm survivability, and
what we're looking to do is make sure that they cope themselves, they need no human interaction.
Operation maintenance is a big issue for us, making them survive those types of storms, those seas
that we might see.

Robyn Williams: And the cost of manufacture, is it fairly straightforward?

Tim Sawyer: It is at the moment. They'll be high to start with as a first demonstration, but as we
increase the amount that we're producing, as we deploy more projects, those costs will come down
and we expect them to be cost competitive with wind, is the hope.

Robyn Williams: Wind?

Tim Sawyer: Current offshore low penetration wind is where we're aiming for, so that sort of price
to make them competitive around the world.

Robyn Williams: And what about similar sorts of technology elsewhere? Anything like it in other
parts of the world?

Tim Sawyer: There are a number of wave energy devices under development. The vast majority are on
the surface. Of those, most of them generate electricity at sea, which is one way of doing it. Our
take on it is that having electronics and rotating parts, that sort of stuff, at sea in that
environment is a complication, is an added factor to consider for operation and maintenance. So we
keep it very simple below the surface, reduce our operation and maintenance and reduce our overall

Robyn Williams: Brilliant, thank you.

I might introduce myself, Robyn Williams from The Science Show, and you're the federal member for

Melissa Parke: Yes, Melissa Parke.

Robyn Williams: And you sir, the mayor?

Peter Tagliaferri: Peter Tagliaferri, mayor of the city of Fremantle.

Robyn Williams: And you'd both know very well whether this has become a famous technology around

Melissa Parke: I am at least, and I know that many of my colleagues are. In fact I referred to this
wave power technology in my first speech to the federal parliament in February this year, and this
is about my sixth visit to the site. I brought the federal Labour caucus infrastructure committee
here to visit, and Penny Wong was just here a few weeks ago. All of them have come away extremely
impressed with the clean simplicity of the technology, with the minimal impact upon the marine
environment and the negligible noise and visual impacts, and of course with the fantastic potential
of this wave power project to provide zero emission base load power.

Robyn Williams: 35% of our needs potentially, that sounds extraordinary.

Melissa Parke: Yes, it is extraordinary, and I'm certainly very happy to continue to provide
support in any way I can for this project.

Robyn Williams: Given those things, one would have thought the Prime Minister and various other
people in parliament would think this then is a good reason for going for rather more adventuresome
levels of commitment to reducing carbon. Is that likely?

Melissa Parke: I think the government has indicated very strong interest and commitment to
developing renewable energy sources, whether it's geothermal or solar or wind, and I think that now
wave power definitely has to be figured into the mix.

Robyn Williams: Peter, are the local people here in Perth and in Fremantle behind this?

Peter Tagliaferri: In Fremantle in particular, and as you can hear from the federal member, she's
very, very supportive, used it in her maiden speech, and also our new senator used it in his maiden
speech two weeks ago. This technology is obviously cutting edge, 35% of our energy use across the
country could be accommodated with this used up and down the coastline, and it's up to a major
policy shift from government to capture it.

Robyn Williams: Thank you very much.

The mayor of Fremantle Peter Tagliaferri, with federal member Melissa Parke, at the Carnegie wave
power facility, opened this week. Before them you heard Tim Sawyer, oceanographer and site
development manager. There's a big spread on all that in this month's first Australian edition of
Popular Science magazine.