DEFENCE companies have invested in a massive wave energy project off the coast of Portland, with plans the technology could be harnessed to power navy bases and maritime surveillance of people smugglers and pirates.
Aviation giant Lockheed Martin has joined forces with Ocean Power Technologies (OPT) to build the $230 million wave energy project, due to begin this year providing the Victorian government grants a permit.
Victorian Wave Partners, a subsidiary of OPT, is handling the project.
OPT chairman Dr George Taylor told The Standard wave power was poised to surpass wind energy as a more reliable and higher capacity source of renewable energy.
“The energy is a lot more consistent than it is in wind,” Dr Taylor said.
“It’s very predictable. We can track waves over hundreds of miles of ocean.
“Thirty-five to 40 per cent of the time you can produce a significant amount of (wave) energy but for wind it’s 20 to 25 per cent. But wind still has its place, along with solar.”
Last week OPT was fortunate to sign off on a $66 million grant from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA), which now faces a $435 million cut from Canberra.
Dr Taylor said the changes to the grant had “front-loaded” the cash into the first two phases of the project “so we can prove to our financiers and the world that this is a viable project”.
Up to 28 buoys will be in the water by 2017, producing 62 megawatts.
They will be anchored to an underwater substation five kilometres off the Portland coast, where they will have a life span of at least 20 to 25 years.
“Lockheed Martin is our delivery partner. They decided that renewable energy is a very important part of defence for the United States,” Dr Taylor said.
“In times of war the shipment of fuel and oil can be a strategic problem and US bases want to be as independent as they can.”
The company is yet to speak with the Australian Defence Force.
“We’re going to be doing that very shortly,” Dr Taylor said.
He said the buoys could also be used as surveillance, guarding oil rigs and monitoring for pirates and people smugglers using “over the horizon radar”.
Petroleum giant Woodside has invested in the project.
“OPT itself has put $11 million in and we have investors who are supporting us,” Dr Taylor said.
“The power buoys need to be made by steel fabricators, so we will be creating a lot of jobs around Portland and Victoria.
“Keppel Prince will be a big player.”
Monash University director of energy and carbon pricing Dr Ariel Liebman said wave power was yet to prove itself as a trusted energy source.
“It’s where solar and wind were 10 years ago. It’s one of the emerging technologies,” Dr Liebman said.
“It’s yet to prove itself on a large economic scale.”
He said wave energy would rely on government subsidies to encourage trials.