Engineers and scientists have been working on harnessing the power of ocean waves for hundreds of years. Yet, no commercial wave energy projects greater than 50 MW have been deployed worldwide yet. Much of the challenge stems from the constantly changing energy fluctuations of the ocean’s waves, and finding robust ways to harvest its high energy density at an affordable price. More recently, however, viable solutions have started to appear.
Seattle-based tech company Oscilla Power is developing one such approach for widespread commercial use. Oscilla recently announced a financing campaign with the equity crowdfunding website MicroVentures on July 1, 2020. The company is seeking financing to help complete construction and deployment for its first commercial wave energy converter (WEC), the Triton-C.
The Economic Opportunity
Since the 1990s, the primary sources of renewable energy in the U.S. have been biofuels, geothermal energy, solar energy, and wind energy. In 2019, renewable energy accounted for 11.4% of the total consumption of energy in the U.S., and according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, this number is expected to increase meaningfully through 2050.
Dr. Tim Mundon, VP of Engineering at Oscilla Power, feels that this expected rise in renewable energy speaks to the economic opportunities within this industry. The wave energy market has been projected to exceed $21 billion by 2027. When combined with solar and wind, it will increase the number of renewables on the grid.
“While solar and wind are growing rapidly, they cannot themselves meet the requirements for a future low carbon grid,” said Mundon. “Wave energy is a complementary resource to other renewables and should be an important part of any future renewable energy mix.”
The Triton-C, and its larger sibling, the Triton, are Oscilla Power’s attempts to meet the challenges of supplying clean and renewable energy sources over the next decade. The Triton series functions by way of a surface float on the top of the water that moves along with the waves and a ring-shaped ‘heave’ plate located several meters below the surface and connected to the float by three lines. As waves move the float, the submerged plate resists this motion. The resulting forces transfer through each line to drivetrains located in the float, where it is converted into electricity.
Oscilla’s systems differ primarily in just size and power. The Triton-C is a 100 kW system for smaller applications, particularly in remote or isolated communities/facilities. In contrast, the Triton is a 1 MW system for much larger installations, where it would be installed in arrays of many hundred systems.
Why Is Oscilla Power Different?
Wave-to-wave variability has tended to be the major stumbling block for earlier generations of WECs. Designing wave energy systems for highly efficient energy capture and conversion across a wide range of real sea conditions is challenging. The knowledge, software, and hardware capability to do this accurately and quickly are only now emerging. These issues, in turn, have caused WEC’s to have low energy output and high costs, contributing to why wave energy has had a difficult time gaining momentum.
The Triton and Triton-C are designed to address these challenges directly. They feature an inbuilt survival approach that limits loads in storms and allows the system to be better optimized for maximum performance. This approach enables the Triton to last longer and undergo less costly maintenance.
Oscilla believes that this longevity, coupled with higher annual energy production, will make ‘wave farms’ of Triton systems cost-competitive with other renewables. Current projections put the anticipated production for a 1MW Triton at 3 GWh per year per device, about on par with an onshore wind turbine of a similar rating (per MW).
Visions For The Future
Ultimately, Oscilla's main goal is to contribute to the necessary change required to reduce the effects of global climate change. The investments made in their technology will help the company reduce the cost of ocean energy and create a cleaner environment.
"Zero carbon sources of energy are needed if we are to be able to reduce the impact of global warming caused by greenhouse gas emissions," said Mundon.
Oscilla is currently headquartered and operates in Seattle, Washington. In early 2021, the team plans to test its technology in Hawaii for one year. Once testing is complete, the Triton-C will be brought back to Washington State, ideally for a more permanent installation.
"We hope that we can use this system to provide power to an indigenous coastal community, perhaps a tribe on the Olympic Peninsula where there are strong waves,” said Mundon.
Over the next five years, Oscilla hopes to transition to becoming an equipment provider, and aims to continue to be headquartered in and operate in the U.S. with a global presence extending its operations to Europe and India.