A big foothold in energy of future

EHL design engineer Derek Shotbolt examines the float of their wave energy device at their Bell Block workshop.
EHL design engineer Derek Shotbolt examines the float of their wave energy device at their Bell Block workshop.

In a shed like every other in Bell Block's sprawling industrial area a small New Plymouth company is working on the future.

On Wednesday, Energy Hydraulics Ltd, EHL, accepted delivery of a wave energy convertor that, in conjunction with government agency Callaghan Innovation, formerly Industrial Research Limited, it had been developing and testing for the last three years.

Currently one of the most advanced and robust wave energy devices, it had returned home from a testing stint at sea off the Oregon coast in the US - the country funding its development.

While in Bell Block, EHL will complete modifications to its electronics and the all important rotating float before shipping it out to Hawaii, and its final test.

The deployment to Hawaii will cost about $3 million, EHL design engineer Derek Shotbolt says. That cost is being met by the US Department of Energy and the US Department of Defence, whose interest is in independent power sources for their many bases across the world.

If the test of the half-scale device is successful there is a good chance the project will move on to the last stage of development - the construction and deployment of a full-scale model.

Not bad for a New Plymouth company that started out 13 years ago with the purchase of Energy City Hydraulics and has grown from five to more than 50 employees.

"To build the full-scale model will cost a good US$30 million," Shotbolt says.

"New Zealand doesn't have that sort of money. America does. We are trying to keep New Zealand involvement happening. The whole concept was designed in NZ. We want to keep some sections here."

Interest and investment in wave energy convertors (as distinct from tide energy convertors which use current to turn turbines) is surging. By Shotbolt's estimation it is where wind generation development was 30 years ago. Establishing a foothold in the technology now is therefore not only vital to avoid being left behind but could lead to an immensity of export riches as industrialised countries move away from expensive fossil fuels.

"This is definitely an overseas product, an export-type product," Shotbolt says.

"We have a number of spinoffs from this which is even bigger for us. We picked up a funding grant from the government for developing a ground- breaking energy storage system that would make renewable energy more usable."

More usable in that it can smooth supply from renewable sources, ensuring a consistency that allows it to be connected straight into the national grid.

The current technology employed to do this is often battery banks, a costly and limiting option. Shotbolt is not letting the cat out of the bag about how EHL plan to store energy from its wave power device, but it isn't batteries.

"It's still at the concept stage with the first prototype due for testing later in the year. Any device that connects to the grid needs to be totally reliable for the distribution company to rely on the supply for sale," he says.

"We find solutions. That's the main thing. We don't make production line stuff that is the same every time. Everything is slightly different. We find solutions to people's problems."

Taranaki Daily News