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Chance for region to ride sustainable energy wave

Taranaki’s expert engineering and manufacturing skills can help the region become a worldwide leader in the development, production and installation of wave energy technology, EHL Group’s Armin Howard says.

The New Plymouth-based engineering company, which also has offices in Auckland and Australia, is working on its latest design for converting the power of waves into electricity to supply homes, businesses and industry.

It has partnered with American ocean renewable energy development company Northwest Energy Innovations (NWEI) in a joint venture company called Azura to develop and commercialise the technology.

 

The Azura device takes the motion of waves and turns it into mechanical movement, which is converted into hydraulic power that drives a generator and produces electricity. EHL Group designs, manufactures and installs the PowerPod component – the technology that converts the kinetic energy into electricity – and is taking the engineering lead in the latest development of the complete Azura device.

 

To date, NWEI has secured funding for the project through the US Department of Energy and, therefore, prototype testing has been carried out in the United States. But EHL Group wants to bring the entire process – the design, build, testing, and commercialisation of the complete Azura device – to Taranaki, and hopes to secure additional grant funding or capital investment from New Zealand to make it a reality.

 

“EHL Group is a Taranaki company and all the directors come from Taranaki. They see this as a great opportunity to make a contribution to retaining and growing jobs in the region,” says Armin, who is projects group and operations manager.

“We’ve formed a consortium with companies here to provide us with the parts we need – the mooring lines, power cables, engineering design and fabrication – and EHL Group would do the assembly. 

“The units could be built here, we could sell them internationally, install them and maintain them. It could create 120 new jobs and potentially $83 million per annum in GDP, and it aligns with the focus of the New Energy Development Centre of working towards a net-zero carbon economy by 2050.”

While funding is sought, Armin and his team are continuing work on the latest design.

 

After successful half-scale prototype testing off the coast of Hawaii at the US Navy’s wave energy test site, which included the Azura device supplying energy to Hawaii’s electricity grid for 24 months from June 2015, EHL Group is now in the development of a full-scale device.

 

It has refined the design, with the key change being that the Azura device now boasts two PowerPods, rather than one pod. Each pod can produce 250kW of electricity for a total of 500kW per device.

Predictive motion control of the ‘float’, the mechanism that moves with the waves and drives the hydraulics, has also been introduced. This automatically tunes the motion resistance to the sea conditions – if the sea is aggressive the motion resistance is increased, if the sea is quieter the resistance is reduced.

“We are also working on the device providing a source of fresh water through a process called reverse osmosis,” he says. “We can use the hydraulic pressure to pump salt water through a membrane under pressure. This separates the saline from the water, producing fresh water.

“With the units being mobile, they could easily be used for disaster relief – deployed off the coast and used to make power and water.”

EHL Group has finished the computer model design and has built and tested a wave tank model.

“There is still 10-12 months of detailed design work and then 6-8 months of build. So about 18 months before we put a full-scale device in the water.”

Armin says initial testing will be carried out at the wave energy test site at Hawaii.

“Should we be successful in obtaining more funding, then the plan is to replicate that here in Taranaki, off Cape Egmont. It has a good wave profile for the tech and there is 60m water depth not far from shore, which means a power cable from the device to shore would be shorter than in Hawaii.”

The final stage of testing would involve putting a multi-unit array in the water. 

“It is estimated that 150% of the world’s energy supply could come from wave technology – it’s more efficient and predictable than wind or solar – and the sea conditions in Taranaki are perfect for testing and implementation, so there’s great potential for Taranaki,” he says.

Wave energy technology is just one of a diverse range of industries EHL Group has serviced since it began operating 17 years ago.

The company has 50 staff and designs, manufactures, installs, services, calibrates, and project manages engineered solutions for the food and beverage, mobile, industrial, defence, energy and marine markets.

It has manufactured and installed specialist air and gas units for wineries, freezers and chillers in Australia, England and Ireland, and gangways for HMNZS Canterbury and super yachts.

EHL Group chief executive Peter Jannings says the EIG has been helpful in securing work.

“The EIG is good because it gets you in close with other people in the energy game and other industries, giving you a chance to meet and discuss what is going on in the region and beyond. And Venture Taranaki has access to central government, which is a real benefit.”

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