THE OSCILLATING WATER COLUMN


BY OCEANLINX, NEW SOUTH WALES, AUSTRALIA


THE INSPIRATION Inventor Tom Denniss grew up 75 miles south of Sydney, in a coastal town near one of eastern Australia’s famous tourist attractions: the Kiama Blowhole, a 100-foot-tall geyser that shoots from an opening in the ceiling of a sea cave. The spectacle must have made an impression: The oscillating water column, which Denniss designed in the 1990s, mimics the blowhole in function, if not precisely in form.



Oceanlinx wants to build a plant that would power 27,000 homes and become the world’s largest wave energy project.

 


THE MACHINE Visually, this portable blowhole made of steel looks like a machine from the pages of a Dr. Seuss book. As waves enter the structure through a narrow opening at its submerged base, air is pushed through a hole outfitted with a turbine, which spins under the pressure. As waves recede out of the structure, air is sucked back into the hole, once again causing the turbine to spin.


THE OREGON CONNECTION Though Oceanlinx had been moving ahead with plans for a wave farm near Florence (it had applied for a FERC license and state permits to install 15 one-megawatt devices, or enough to power 15,000 homes), the company bailed out this spring. The problem? Oceanlinx apparently has too many other wave energy projects already under way. It plans to reapply in Oregon within a year or two.


THE REAL WORLD Since 2006, a single oscillating water column has been producing power for 500 homes near Port Kembla, a community 55 miles south of Sydney—proving that the technology works and that it can withstand the harsh ocean environment. Oceanlinx also is applying for government permits to build an 18-unit project off the coast of Victoria, Australia, that would power 27,000 homes and become the world’s largest wave energy project. Formal agreements with Hawaii, Rhode Island, a development agency in Cornwall, and a utility in Namibia are also on the table. No wonder the company is too busy to take a dip here.