David Leb, founder and owner of the Rancho Estero surfing camp in Panama, practically lived on the beach. Watching bronzed surfers ride the rolling waves, his thoughts naturally turned to – turning that Pacific energy into power.
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Panama supplies energy to all of Central America but was itself suffering at the time from a supply shortage. Identifying the potential, Leb founded Eco Wave Power, now headquartered in Israel.
He wasn't exactly a pioneer. Visionaries have been trying to generate electricity from waves for a century. None succeeded.
Man has learned how to tap the wind and sun for power, to some degree. Harvesting wave power – called tidal energy or wave energy – has remained a niche field. The challenges are legion. Storms destroy equipment and maintaining stations as much as five kilometers off the coast is expensive and difficult.
Eco Wave, which has brought the electricity-producing facilities near to the coast, thinks it's cracked the code with a device that looks remarkably like a giant piano. And neither of its founders are even engineers. They simply identified the potential in the unexploited natural resource.
The technology is being developed by a 5-man team in Ukraine, which was chosen after a competition in which 300 engineers participated.
"Electricity from waves should be a cheap and reliable solution, from which large amounts of energy can be harvested," says Inna Braverman, co-founder and marketing director. Solar energy for instance has the drawback of being harvestable only during the day. Waves on the other hand are perpetual.
The World Energy Council projects a potential market of $1 trillion a year from in harvesting wave power, says Braverman, yet none of the companies established so far could go commercial. Operating far out at sea requiring expensive maintenance, she explains. "You need a special generator, ships and divers," says Braverman.
Using smaller waves better
The problem with placing the system near the coast is smaller waves. To overcome this obstacle, Eco Wave planned the system to exploit that lesser amount of energy more efficiently, by designing eight different types of buoys suited to different marine environments. The buoys rise and fall with the waves and propel turbines. These create pressure in the accumulator. The pressure is strong enough to turn a hydro-motor which turns a generator and produces electricity.
The more waves there are, the more electricity is produced, Braverman explains.
The company's customers are energy companies and local governments. Its first contract is for a 5-megawatt commercial power station supplying power to about 10,000 homes in Europe.
The equipment for producing each megawatt spreads along a length of 70 meters, Braverman says. For example, she says that on the Ashdod breakwater they could install equipment sufficing to generate 50 megawatts, in other words, enough electricity for about 70,000 households. In all, the company has orders in the pipeline to produce 79 megawatts, mainly in China, England and Cyprus.
The company admits that its power will cost more than regular electricity, which is the norm for alternative energies.
Eco Wave is in the process of raising $10 million to finance projects in the pipeline. It has seven employees in Israel and 11 in Mexico, where Eco Wave is building a 10-megawatt plant with investors from the local gas industry.
The first system tests were carried out at the Institute of Hydromechanics NAS of Ukraine in Kiev. The first model was installed in the Black Sea in the Crimean peninsula. In a happy accident of timing, the system was transferred to Israel's Jaffa Port two weeks before Russia took over the region.