THE AQUABUOY POINT ABSORBER
BY FINAVERA RENEWABLES, VANCOUVER, CANADA
THE INSPIRATION During the 1970s, when Sweden dealt with the worldwide oil crisis by rationing gas, a steel-mill manager named Gunnar Fredrikson, along with his colleagues, resolved to avoid any such future troubles by designing a wave energy device. The resulting machine resembled the buoys that Swedish fishermen used to navigate the high seas, except that this one was outfitted with a turbine that spun as waves surged and retreated. Alas, when the oil crisis passed, so did enthusiasm for the idea—until Fredrikson’s two sons, Hans and Göram, both engineers, revived the design in the mid-1990s.
THE MACHINE Simple in principle, the point absorber is essentially a 12-foot-diameter cylinder that houses a series of pumps and is moored to the seafloor. Activated by the movement of waves, the pumps push seawater up the tube and through a turbine mounted near the top. The turbine spins again upon the water’s retreat.
THE OREGON CONNECTION Last September, Finavera launched an AquaBuoy near Newport, becoming the first wave energy company to test a prototype off the West Coast. Built in just three months at Oregon Iron Works in Clackamas, the yellow-and-white, 70,000-pound buoy was then lifted by crane into a truck, driven down I-5, lowered (gently) into the water with the use of six massive rubber balloons that kept it from sinking, and towed several miles offshore by tugboat.
THE REAL WORLD Unfortunately, after two months of data collection (which proved that the AquaBuoy was able to produce the amount of electricity predicted), the $3 million device sank. “It wasn’t the best day,” says Kevin Banister, Finavera’s vice president of development. (The company plans to conduct a “forensic analysis” on the machine to find out what went wrong.) Despite the setback, Finavera is the first wave energy company in the country to land a permit for a commercial project from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). By 2011, it plans to build a small-scale project in Makah Bay, Washington, that will supply power for up to 700 homes.