Wave power experiment near Waitara

Wave power could become the next big thing in the energy province.

A consortium comprising a Wellington-based company and Crown research institute Industrial Research Ltd intends installing an experimental wave energy converter at a site off the Waitara coast.

Applications for resource consents to allow the wave energy converter to be installed 4.5km off the coast in 25m of water were last week filed with the Taranaki Regional Council.

Brains behind the project is former New Plymouth engineer John Huckerby, who is now director of Power Projects Ltd, a Wellington-based energy industry consultancy. Dr Huckerby previously worked for Fletcher Challenge Energy, leading a team that evaluated the Pohokura and Mangahewa gasfields.

He told the Taranaki Daily News the Waitara site had been selected because of the good wave energy, supportive infrastructure in Taranaki and the region's proven marine skills, expertise and experience.

"The objective of the research will be to confirm and improve the performance of the device," he said, adding that the future may see one or two more of them installed at the site for further testing.

Last year Power Projects Ltd received a government grant of $760,000 for its research into wave energy, and at that stage Dr Huckerby said the funds would be used to build and test various scale devices and eventually a wave energy converter capable of generating up to 100kW of power.

Two of the scale devices have already been installed off Lyttelton, near Christchurch. The first was a 6m-long quarter-scale model that was in the water for two years to the end of 2008, and the second – with improved internal equipment – is in the water now and is generating up to 2kW of power.

Dr Huckerby said the device planned for Waitara would be a half-scale version up to 17m long and capable of generating up to 20kW of power.

It will float on the surface of the sea, and will be moored to the sea bed, marked by four navigation buoys, and will have a strobe light and radar deflector.

Asked what will happen to the power once it comes ashore, he said it would probably be used to help operate the New Plymouth District Council-owned sewage pumping station.

The new device is likely to be built in New Plymouth and will remain offshore for about five years. Dr Huckerby said it was hoped it would be installed next summer.

He added installation of the experimental wave energy converter off Waitara would be entirely for long-term testing, and the site would never be used for any future commercial power generation.

"The wave energy available out there simply wouldn't be strong enough for a full-sized unit," he said.

Dr Huckerby said he was confident the device, its moorings and anchors would take up very little space and would have very low environmental impact.

"The good thing about the project is that the cabling will be able to be run ashore up the existing Waitara outfall pipe. That means there will be no evidence of the project onshore, and the area affected offshore will cover less than two hectares," he said.

Taranaki Daily News