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Neptune Power Buoys—First Grid-Tied Renewable Energy Pilot Project Set for Grand Bahama

The Bahamas’ first grid-tied renewable energy dmonstration project will get off the ground (or water) early next year.

An offshore wave energy buoy produced by Neptune Wave Power of Dallas, Texas (using patented technology developed by Steve Hench, a computer scientist formerly with the Los Alamos National Laboratory) will be connected to the Grand Bahama Power Company grid near Freeport.

Following a 90-day commissioning period, it is expected that power will be supplied by mid 2011. According to Abaconian Scott Albury, Neptune’s president for Caribbean operations, this will be the first full-scale commercial test of the company’s wave generator.

“There is no intention to disconnect the buoy,” Albury told me at the recent Caribbean Renewable Energy Forum on Paradise Island. “The next step will be an array of four buoys and then 100 and beyond. We have agreement with Grand Bahama Power to do this.”

Environment Minister Earl Deveaux said there were no obstacles to the pilot project and added that both BEC and GB Power were willing to participate in the testing. Other possible sites besides Grand Bahama included Bimini and Andros.

Neptune must get permission to use Crown seabed from the Department of Lands & Surveys, and navigational hazard approval from the Port. The government also has to agree to duty-free importation of the equipment and work permits for foreign personnel.

Neptune’s wave energy buoy can generate electricity in seas of only two and a half feet, which means about 85 per cent of the time in Grand Bahama waters. The buoy reacts to the irregular movement of waves by rotating an internal pendulum. The energy from this rotation drives an on-board electric generator and power is fed to the grid via a submarine cable.

A single buoy moored one to two kilometres from shore is said to be able to produce more than 100 kilowatts of power, and arrays of buoys can be assembled to generate larger amounts. Neptune expects to be in a position to explore further deployments by late 2011 and says large-scale manufacturing could begin in 2012. Freeport is being considered as a manufacturing site for Caribbean deployment of its power buoys.

The power buoy technology was launched by Dallas-based Seadyne Energy Systems in 2006. Neptune was formed in 2009 by venture capital investors to develop and commercialise the technology.

The choice of the Bahamas for the wave generator’s first commercial test is unusual. So far, wave energy conversion devices have been deployed or tested in locations with strong wave climates such as the British Isles (Orkneys, Scotland and Cornwall), Portugal and Hawaii, Oregon and New Jersey in the US.

One of the biggest problems with testing wave energy devices in these locations is that while the average gross power available is high (approx. 50-70kw per linear meter of wave front), storm waves can be 1,000 times more powerful than the average, so devices need to be designed to survive these extreme loads.

Although the Bahamas does not have a comparatively large wave resource (on the order of 10-20 kw/m), it is a far more benign environment in which to conduct device testing and year-round operations are possible.

The British government has committed hundreds of millions of pounds to the development of marine renewable energy technologies, with the expectation that wave energy technologies will be commercially viable by 2020. In the meantime, billions of dollars will be spent developing these technologies and experts say an opportunity may exist for the Bahamas to benefit from development testing.

Category/ies:Bahamas News.
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