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Finnish technology picked for giant wave-power farm

In a potential clean energy breakthrough, Finland's AW-Energy has been chosen as the main supplier for a large wave-power facility to be built off the French coast. Sea generation is being touted as a major wave of the future.

WaveRollerin kolmesta yksiköstä koostuva koevoimala upotettiin Portugalin rannikolle ensimmäisen kerran viime syksynä.
Waveroller's pilot installation in Portugal. Image: AW-Energy

Dubbed the Waveroller, the newest version of AW-Energy's wave power generator was set up as a pilot test in the Atlantic surf off central Portugal last autumn. Currents under the surface move eight-metre-high plates that turn a series of pumps and engines to convert the power of the sea into electricity.

Since this is new technology, the chance to prove its effectiveness on a larger scale represents a golden opportunity for the Vantaa-based AW-Energy. Wave power is seen as a major sector for the future, and there are many startups competing for a foothold in the burgeoning market.

AW-Energy CEO, John Liljelund, says that the test installation set an electricity production record this past June, generating more than expected during a stormy period.

Now the system is being fine-tuned while its results are being submitted to a Portuguese research institute, the Wave Energy Centre, for analysis. So far the institute is impressed.

"Compared with the other firms, I think that Waveroller is far ahead,” says Executive Director Ana Brito e Melo. “Not many companies have gone into the water and been able to demonstrate their technology over long periods of time."

1/10 of world's electricity?

But what kind of impact does installing these huge devices have on the marine environment? That's also being studied, says André Moura, a marine biologist at the Wave Energy Centre.

"We will be changing the natural habitat,” he says. “But on the other hand introducing a hard substrate gives an opportunity to create more life and more variety of life in this location, in what is known as an artificial reef effect. So we're very interested in analysing this. We think it could possibly be a very good factor."

On Thursday, AW-Energy announced that it is teaming up with French maritime giant DCNS and Finland's biggest utility, Fortum, to build the world's biggest wave-power farm off the coast of Brittany. It should generate about 1.5 megawatts of electricity – which is still modest compared to an offshore wind farm.

Yet the International Energy Agency forecasts that by 2050, various types of ocean-generation systems could produce twice as much electricity as windpower now does, potentially generating up to 10 percent of the world's electricity – without emitting greenhouse gases.

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