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Blowhole wave energy generator exceeds expectations in 12-month test
Loz Blain

The UniWave 200 has been making reliable, clean energy for Australia's King Island for a year now, delivering better performance than expected.

Wave Swell Energy's remarkable UniWave 200 is a sea platform that uses an artificial blowhole formation to create air pressure changes that drive a turbine and feed energy back to shore. After a year of testing, the company reports excellent results.

As we've discussed before, the UniWave system is a floating device that can be towed to any coastal location and connected to the local energy grid. It's designed so that wave swells force water into a specially designed concrete chamber, pressurizing the air in the chamber and forcing it through an outlet valve. Then as the water recedes, it generates a powerful vacuum, which sucks air in through a turbine at the top and generates electricity that's fed into the grid via a cable. 

As a result, it draws energy from the entire column of water that enters its chamber, a fact the team says makes it more efficient than wave energy devices that only harvest energy from the surface or the sea floor. 

The UniWave 200 in place off King Island, Tasmania

WSE's key innovation here is that one-way generation; other devices that harvest the same effect use bi-directional turbines, requiring the ability to reverse blade pitch or redirect the airflow. WSE says its design allows for far cheaper and more simplistic turbines, that should also last longer since they're not getting as much salt water splashed through them when a big wave hits. Indeed, all this device's moving parts are above the waterline, a fact that should help extend its service life as well as making it completely harmless to marine life. 

Interestingly, the UniWave's design also makes it easy to incorporate into breakwaters and seawalls, where it can take a coastal erosion protection project and turn it into a clean energy source. You can see an animation showing how it works in the video below.

200-kW test platform was installed last year off King Island, facing the notoriously rough seas of Bass Strait, which separates the island state of Tasmania from the mainland of Australia. There, it's been contributing reliable clean energy to the island's microgrid around the clock for a full 12 months. The WSE team has made a few live tweaks to the design during operation, improving its performance beyond original expectations. 

“We set out to prove that Wave Swell’s wave energy converter technology could supply electricity to a grid in a range of wave conditions, and we have done that,” said WSE CEO Paul Geason in a press release. "One key achievement has been to deliver real-world results in Tasmanian ocean conditions to complement the AMC test modeling. In some instances, the performance of our technology in the ocean has exceeded expectations due to the lessons we’ve learnt through the project, technological improvements and the refinements we have made over the course of the year."

"Our team is excited to have achieved a rate of conversion from wave power to electricity at an average of 45 to 50% in a wide range of wave conditions," he continues. "This is a vast improvement on past devices and shows that the moment has arrived for wave power to sit alongside wind, solar and energy storage as part of a modern energy mix."

The UniWave can turn erosion protection projects into clean power sources

The King Island platform will remain in place at least until the end of 2022, and the company is now gearing up to go into production. 

"Having proven our device can survive the toughest conditions the Southern Ocean and Bass Strait can throw at it, and deliver grid compliant electricity, our priority now shifts to commercializing the technology," said Gleason. "For Wave Swell this means ensuring the market embraces the WSE technology and units are deployed to deliver utility scale clean electricity to mainland grids around the world.”

See the UniWave 200 test platform running in the video below. 




Loz has been one of our most versatile contributors since 2007. Joining the team as a motorcycle specialist, he has since covered everything from medical and military technology to aeronautics, music gear and historical artefacts. Since 2010 he's branched out into photography, video and audio production, and he remains the only New Atlas contributor willing to put his name to a sex toy review. A singer by night, he's often on the road with his acappella band Suade.

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