In terms of renewable energy systems, companies have recently attempted to harness three main sources of energy: the sun, wind and waves. Solar panels are pretty much everywhere these days. Wind turbine installations are becoming more common on land and offshore. However, what we haven’t seen much of is wave energy. The new wave of energy, though, could be wave power.
The world is turning to renewable energy. Not fast enough – not yet – but it’s happening. The classic renewable energy source is hydropower. If it was easy to escape by building giant dams everywhere, we would have done it long ago.
That’s why the world is switching to a new set of renewable energy sources, mainly solar, wind and wave power. All renewable energy sources have unique combinations of advantages and disadvantages. So far, the use of solar and wind energy is quite extensive. Solar panels power everything from toys to people’s homes. A farm of wind turbines is sending energy to the grid.
Wave energy is not yet widely commercialized, but it continues to be of interest for several reasons. Some of these reasons are obvious. For example, solar power only works during the day and doesn’t work as well when it’s covered by clouds, while ocean waves keep coming day and night, regardless of the clouds.
Less obvious is the potential for wave power to generate more electricity with less infrastructure. For example, if solar and wind both measure around 1 kilowatt per square meter in terms of peak density, then wave energy has an energy of about 25 kilowatts per square meter. Regardless of the metric used for comparison, the numbers for wave energy are usually at least ten times better than solar or wind.
The upshot is that scaling up to the megawatt scale may be more practical with wave power than with solar or wind power. It is estimated that there may be about 2 terawatts of electricity available for extraction in the world’s coastal waters.
Another very clear advantage of wave energy is in marine applications. If you want to power something far out at sea, you can rely on the presence of waves — not everywhere, but close enough.
Wave energy, or marine renewable energy, includes many different resources in the ocean. With waves on it, you can have ocean currents, like the Gulf Stream. There is a salinity gradient. There are many different ways to extract energy from the ocean.
What’s so unique about it? I mean, what is wave energy? Is it the fact that it’s intermittent? In fact, it has to be environmentally friendly, because seawater is very harsh on electronics, I think.
So if you don’t discount what the C-Power does, it takes a lot of analysis to understand it, and then there’s the electromechanical design, which leads to something being fed to me, which is essentially a pulse of energy that looks like an ocean wave. So I suspect that if you take a picture of the wave and look at the power pulse or energy pulse that I get, they will be somewhat similar.
But in power conversion, you regulate the output somehow based on the input voltage. Generally, if you have to go over a four to one input range, 10 to 40 volts, or 100 to 400 or 200, that’s OK. Well, the energy pulse from the generator is a very low frequency pulse. Over its entire time period, it goes from zero to relatively high voltages, hundreds of volts, and then drops back down to zero. This time may be more than a few seconds.
Also, throughout the duration of the pulse, there is less and less energy at any given time. So in order to try to turn this pulse into something useful and organized, essentially a current source, into an energy storage device, the trick is figuring out how to extract energy from almost no voltage all the way up to maybe over 400 volts, and A constant current is generated in the memory device and then controlled. So we increase or decrease the amount of current depending on the pulse and need. So if you think about loops, there’s a lot of loops out there trying to control the whole thing.
You know, the big trick is figuring out how to use as many standard components as possible – power conversion components from Vicor – because they are very efficient and high frequency switching, the better you apply the more efficient and controllable you can be yes. And smaller. Because we can’t be huge. A big trick is to figure out efficiency.
Now, over this huge, wide input voltage range, basically, it’s not easy to get ultra-high efficiency. On the other hand, it turns out that when the power is high, super-high efficiency is really required. So as long as we can control it while transmitting a lot of power, we’re very efficient. When we transmit the smallest amount of power, we keep running. We still generate electricity, we still convert energy and deal with the efficiency drops of the low power era.
So are C-Power products as refined as electromechanical systems? Basically, my question is, what technical challenges are left? Are there fundamental challenges? Or are we talking about technical improvements? Maybe that’s a question for Reenst. Perhaps this question also applies to the interface between this electromechanical system made by C-Power and whatever Vicor Northwest Power supplies.
As I mentioned before, I think one of the main challenges that Bill was referring to was creating a system that was agnostic to the end use case. We don’t care if it’s a static asset, or a mobile asset, our goal is to create a clean state of power to keep the asset running and also provide data connectivity. I mean, actually, because we can provide power and data connectivity, we’re bringing the cloud to the bottom of the sea, we’re bringing the cloud to the surface of the ocean where there’s no connectivity available.
In terms of challenges, there’s always going to be an effort to make the system better, stronger, faster, more efficient, as Bill refers to it. But we have a system that will be doing pre-commercial application demonstrations on the coast of Hawaii again this fall, later this fall. This is ready.
Where we go from there is deeper water. Capable of deploying thousands of meters deep in the Gulf of Mexico, there is an urgent need today to provide power for operations in deeper waters. And there is also an urgent need to be able to boot these systems for years at a time. So they have to be pickled. They must be survivable, reliable and efficient.
So we will always be ready to make it better. But we’re going to market today. We actually produced two systems and Vicor produced two sets of power electronics for us. One is a full-scale 2kW system, and then about three-quarter scale. Both units are now in validation testing, so I think that just underscores our position that we’re able to start producing multiple units into the hands of customers here very quickly.