In late March, Israel-based energy company Eco Wave Power announced that it had successfully completed the first stage installation of a commercial scale wave energy plant off the coast of Gibraltar.

A past EWP test installation on the Crimean Peninsula

A past EWP test installation on the Crimean Peninsula

So, what work has been carried out so far? What testing and evaluation activities will be carried out throughout the remainder of the project? And what are the company's plans for the future commercialisation of its wave energy device?

The Eco Wave Power (EWP) Wave Energy Generation System works by drawing energy via specially designed floating mechanisms, dubbed the Wave Clapper and the Power Wing, that rise and fall in harmony with surrounding waves. This motion moves a piston that compresses hydraulic fluid, before storing it in a dedicated accumulator. The energy generated when this compressed fluid is released turns a hydraulic motor and then an electric motor - in the process producing renewable electricity. The hydraulic fluid is then returned to a tank, where it is stored until the next wave. The floaters, which can be attached to many types of structure, including breakwaters, piers, poles and floating platforms, also contain sensors that continuously monitor the performance of the onboard systems and surrounding ocean environment and transmit data to shore in real time.

The first stage of the device - consisting of a 100KW grid connected power plant - was successfully installed during March, and, according to Inna Braverman, Co-Founder and Marketing Director at EWP, the company has now commenced a process of testing and adjusting its automation systems to the specific wave pattern in Gibraltar.

"Once finalised the system will start day to day operation," she adds.

Cost effective
In Braverman's view, Gibraltar is a 'great location' for the implementation of the company's first commercial scale power plant - not only because it is 'central and easily accessible,' but also because both the Government of Gibraltar and the local electric utility have proved to be 'very welcoming and helpful in the project implementation and grid connection process.' She also believes the project will be 'very beneficial' to Gibraltar because it is the first commercial scale renewable energy plant in the British Overseas Territory - and when eventually operating at full scale (5MW) will supply 'up to 15% of all Gibraltar's energy needs' and enable it to meet its renewable energy commitments to the EU by 2020.

For her, there are also a number of 'very clear' advantages to using the device. To begin with, she argues that the cost of constructing the system - coming in at 'around $1 Million not including installation and connection to the grid - is 'more cost-effective than competing renewables such as wind and solar.' Because only 10% of the cost of the system is devoted to equipment located in the water (with the other 90% of the hardware located on land), she also points out that the device is more reliable and has a lower chance of being damaged in stormy weather.

"Even during stormy conditions, EWP has methods of protecting the floaters. When the waves are too high for the system to handle, the floaters automatically rise above the water level and lock it in the 'upward position' till the storm passes.

Favourable conditions
In spite of such advantages, Braverman admits that the wave energy sector still faces a number of challenges in exploiting its potential - not least of which is the fact that 'in many countries there is a feed in tariff for wind, solar and even tidal but there is still no feed in tariff and policies set for wave energy.'

"Without a feed in tariff, it is very difficult to calculate the profitability of a wave energy power plant in a region in question and to commercialise the market. Wave energy is kind of the 'new kid on the block' of renewable energy sources, and in order to become 'popular' governments have to create some favourable conditions, such as the ones they successfully created in the past for wind, solar and other renewables," she says.

For Braverman, the best example of such 'favourable conditions' was the recent recognition of the EWP devices' 'pioneering technology' status by the Chief Scientist of Israel's Energy Ministry, Dr. Bracha Halaf - and the subsequent granting of a feed in tariff and grid connection approval for a 10KW pilot plant installed in the Port of Jaffa.

"However, such steps take a long time to achieve," she says.

Looking ahead, Braverman reveals that Eco Wave Power already has a number of further wave energy projects in the pipeline - between them amounting to some 111 MW of generational capacity. These projects are due to be located in a wide number of regions around the world - including 'China, Mexico, Scotland, England, Cyprus and others.'

"We plan to start the execution of such projects in the nearest future. As to the best markets and locations, we obviously prefer locations that have optimal waves and an attractive feed in tariff to enable a fast ROI [Return on Investment] to our investors," she says.

"Sometimes, the potential locations have a combination of both - that is, waves and feed in tariff - and sometimes only one of the two is sufficient. For example, certain coastal locations in Africa may have a low feed in tariff - as a result of their poor economies - but wave availability of 80%. Such locations will be still attractive to EWP due to the high wave availability. On the other hand, some locations might have waves only 20% of the time, but a very high feed in tariff is very high - this will also make the project attractive for EWP," she adds.

By Andrew Williams