New Plymouth company plans wave energy trials off Taranaki coast

The Azura wave device designed to capture wave energy to generate electricity off Hawaii.
The Azura wave device designed to capture wave energy to generate electricity off Hawaii.

A New Plymouth company that built equipment to generate electricity from wave energy for offshore customers now plans to trial sites in New Zealand, including off the Taranaki coastline.

EHL Group (Energy Hydraulics Limited) successfully developed wave energy technology to compete internationally.

The company's Azura wave energy device was chosen by the US Department of Energy for ocean trials in Hawaii, which led to the device supplying electricity to the island's grid in 2015.

A prototype wave energy converter used to generate power in Hawaii.
A prototype wave energy converter used to generate power in Hawaii.

The device converted wave movement into hydraulic pressure to generate electricity using the kinetic wave energy.

EHL chief executive Peter Jannings​ said the company now planned a three stage development including a 250kW wave energy device, and four 500kW devices for New Zealand waters, including Taranaki's Cape Egmont.

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EHL's project was grabbing attention because wave energy was a renewable source, and had double the reliability of wind energy, Jannings said.

"At a time when energy transitions are moving towards a low carbon future, it is projects like this that will take us forward," he said.

Jannings said EHL had designed, manufactured and installed the Azura wave energy device 'power pod' which converted wave energy into electricity.

It offered the opportunity for Taranaki know-how to be commercialised internationally, however more funding was required for the next developmental step, he said.

"Until successful commercialisation is achieved companies usually invest all their available capital - but need more." 

Selling down equity became counter-productive as loss of control of the project can occur and downstream benefits can be lost, he said. 

New Plymouth MP Jonathan Young said the Government could meet the funding gap and help maintain a significant level of intellectual property rights for the benefit of New Zealand companies and people.

Young had been involved in finding funding for the wave energy project during the last National Government.

Callaghan Innovation had previously been a partner in the prototype of the technology but a step change was needed to develop more advanced design and technology, he said.

"Wave energy has potential to escalate, as the world seeks to make renewable energy more reliable.

"As it grows momentum around the world as a reliable renewable, the cost will decrease, making it more competitive with existing forms of electricity generation."

Young said electricity generation from wave energy would contribute to New Zealand's energy mix.

A wave device generating 500kW could supply up to 350 houses each with electricity, he said.

The Azura device could replace expensive diesel powered generators used by Pacific Island nations with more affordable, renewable and reliable energy.

Young said United States company, Northwest Energy Innovations, were major partners and had access to US Department of Energy investment.

"Ongoing New Zealand investment would enable Taranaki to continue to have a significant part in the programme as intellectual property (IP) developers and manufacturers, either in electronics, hydraulics or general engineering," he said.

"If the Government are committed to transition, this is an obvious opportunity to support innovative renewable electricity generation as well as supporting the Taranaki region."