Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Power from the ocean: Philippines' next frontier

MANILA, May 19 (PNA) -- Ocean energy development could be the country’s next frontier. With resources estimated at 170,000 megawatts (MW), ocean energy potential is the most robust among the country’s renewable resources. It remains untapped because technologies are still in development stage worldwide.

But the reward for early adoption of such untested technology is immense, according to Martin Burger, founding CEO and chairman of Vancouver-based Blue Energy Canada Inc.

“The economic development prize for whoever becomes the seat for tidal power technology, the right technology, in the Pacific Rim is bigger than any other economic prize in history,” he told PNA. “By hosting early projects there, you (the Philippines) become the default seat for the region and that is the biggest prize of them all.”

Blue Energy studied the country’s ocean energy resources in the late ‘90s and submitted a build-own-operate-transfer proposal to the Ramos administration. Phase 1 of the proposed Dalupiri Ocean Power Project, was designed to generate 2,200 MW within six years.

The next three phases of the project would have extended the tidal fence to connect Luzon and Samar, and thus bring power generation to 25,000 MW that could serve as a backbone for an Asian grid. The proposal had a term of 25 years.

It would have been the largest renewable energy project in the world. But having been submitted at the tailend of the Ramos administration, the project was locked down due to a constitutional ban on large contract undertakings during transition periods, according to Burger.

“I think, the promise of the resource and the technologies today have come so much farther that it would be much easier to see something positive occur there.”

Positive Developments

That ray of light could come from a project being undertaken by the government with the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (Unido).

In a separate interview, Mario Marasigan, assistant secretary of the Department of Energy (DOE), said preliminary studies of marine current in the San Bernardino Strait have been done with the support of Unido-Italy.

The DOE is working with the Department of Science and Technology and the Philippine National Oil Co. on the UN-funded project, which also involves China and Indonesia.

“We hope successful demonstrations of the Italy-based technology soon,” he said.

Based on Unido-Italy documents, the project aims to test marine current power generation in the Far East by deploying Kobold turbine prototypes in the Philippines, China and Indonesia.

So far, potential marine current sites in the three countries have been evaluated based on GIS-mapping, and best sites identified.

The studies show that the northwestern part of Allen municipality in Naga is the most suitable site in the Philippines for marine current energy exploitation.

Marasigan, director of the DOE’s Energy Utilization Management Bureau who is now setting up a separate unit to handle renewable energy management in line with the law passed last December, said the agency is also evaluating several proposals of a foreign company to explore ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC) in different parts of the country.

“On the local initiatives, we have demonstration projects involving micro-scale tidal energy generation but very limited at 2-5 kilowatts. If proven feasible, we can possibly apply the technology in rural electrification. Although optimistic, I believe we will (need) more time to prove the same,” Marasigan said.

He noted that most ocean technologies for power generation remain in research and development, exploring potentials for generating marine power through OTEC, tidal current, marine/turbidity current, and wave energy.

A Near-Term Option

Taking baby steps is not bad at all, according to Houston, Texas-based Christopher Olson, who is field testing prototypes of a wave energy device he invented.

“We must start with small projects and get people trained and experienced in the ocean energy field so they can handle larger and larger devices as time goes by. The local economy must be involved and new jobs will be added everyday, paid for by selling the electricity made from the ocean energy device,” he said in an email.

Olson started marketing his wave energy device, called Lever Operating Pivoting Float (LOPF), last year. He acquired a US patent for the device in 2007 and has filed an international application, with patents pending in several countries.

Prototypes have been deployed in El Salvador, Indonesia and South Korea under licensing agreements with Swell Fuel, a company he formed in 2005.

The LOPFs are small ocean wave energy converters that, linked together, could generate up to 100 KW, according to Olson.

“We have tested them in very small and very large waves. The frequency is more important than the size. Small waves that are close together are as good as big waves that are spread out really far from each other,” he said.

The LOPF is an option for off-grid resorts, small coastal towns and oil rigs, Swell Fuel said in a statement. It could also be used for coral reef restoration projects that require low-voltage electricity, the company added.

Olson explained the LOPFs are designed to be lightweight to keep the initial cost down and to make for easy installation and servicing. It costs about $ 8,000 for a 1-KW unit.

Tidal Power

But in the long run, tidal power is the low-cost predictable clean energy option that would harness the country’s vast potential, according to Blue Energy’s Martin Burger.

“This is indeed going to be a significant power option in the Pacific Rim and other places in the world, and the earlier they get in the game, then they participate in the economic development spin-offs for the whole region rather than just their own resources,” he said.

While Blue Energy is currently focused on a project in Scotland, Burger said the company would be happy to return to the Philippines once the regulatory framework is established for the sector.

He said that if the country were to invest about $ 200,000 to do resource mapping and install tidal gauges that could be done in three months, the country would be in a better position to jump-start its ocean energy development.

“For every revolution of the water and any cubic meter of tide that goes through there, you know what that means in revenue so that now, that’s a tight business case,” he noted.

Once the basics are set in place, Burger said Blue Energy could embark on a $ 750-million scale project with available financing for the deployment of its technology.

“There’s a great basis for us being active over there at a certain point in time,” Burger said.

“We’re prioritizing our work right now in Scotland and the incentives that they’ve provided and the maturity of the regulatory framework, the awareness and the willing to take risks in early action in the emergence of the marine power sector, give us a much better environment to work in for the present. But if we could see a concerted effort and the commitment over there as is presently the case in Scotland, we would return in a minute,” he added. (PNA)

1 comment:

  1. In the United States several of us are trying to set up a globally focused foundation to support education, research and development on ocean thermal energy production (OTEC). We have world-class minds involved.

    Interested parties can find us on Facebook or at

    Thank you,

    Ryan Lanham