Interview: Seabased rides the crest of a wave for people, planet & profit

(L to R): Anthony Opoku and Øivind Magnussen ink Ghana wave energy project deal (Photo: Seabased)

Since inception, the people of Seabased have been driven by a love for the challenge of creating technical solutions that bring triple win for people, planet, and profit, according to Øivind Magnussen, the Chief Executive Officer of this Swedish wave company. However, actions speak louder than words – and in Seabased’s case – the latest contract signing with Ghanaian renewable energy production company TC’s Energy for the delivery of a 100MW wave energy park offshore West Africa proves the company means business.

To honor the development the industry deemed as ‘a bold step towards the commercialization of wave energy’, Tidal Energy Today spoke to Mr Magnussen who offered more details on the Ghana wave energy project, technology and the future of this emerging renewable energy sector.

Mr Magnussen, could you tell us more about the reasons which prompted you to choose Ghana for the development of wave energy park?

It was really the other way around: TC’s Energy chose to work with Seabased because we had the right technology to deliver affordable energy from Ghana’s wave resources. Mr Opoku approached us several years ago, because he saw the potential in the wave climate in West Africa, which is well-suited for our generators.

Could you give us more details regarding the project hailed both by industry bodies and other wave energy companies as a ‘bold, world-first’?

It’s bold because it is a first worldwide, and we really applaud TC’s Energy and Ghana for their cutting-edge approach to renewable energy and the protection of our planet. A utility scale wave park requires extensive public-private cooperation, and Ghana has demonstrated a great willingness to make this happen. It’s also a logical step, as we have to build a commercial industry that can provide affordable marine renewable energy.

Seabased and TC’s Energy met at the Ocean Energy Europe offices in Brussels on March 20, 2018 for a formal signing of the contract (Photo: Seabased)

It’s very exciting to be a part of wave power stepping into commercialization. I’m going to hold off on more detail for a bit longer, though, as some aspects of the contract are not finalized; the customer needs to make some choices regarding local content, for example.

Since we’re talking about 100MW project, will it be developed in phases? If yes, how will that phased approach look like?

Yes – a phased approach is required to lower the risks and secure timely deliveries both for the customer and for Seabased in a rising industry. It is also necessary to build a robust supply chain to be able to anticipate further growth. There are options for local content that could affect rollout. We are working with TC’s Energy regarding the best way forward and will have a more definite answer by the end of Q2.

Can you tell us more about the wave energy technology that will be used in the project?

It’s a turnkey system from buoy to grid. The Seabased S2.7 is a simple, robust, scalable linear generator that is placed on the seabed, ideally at a depth of 20-35 meters, and is optimized for medium wave climates like the ones we find in West Africa. Buoys on the surface are moved by the power of the waves and transmit the energy through steel lines to the generators, which convert the mechanical energy of the waves into AC electricity. Cables on the seabed carry the electrical energy to a switchgear that makes the electricity suitable for grid use.

What distinguishes Seabased wave energy technology from other technologies of the similar type being developed around the globe?

There are a lot of exciting wave and marine renewable technologies being developed around the globe, and this is excellent because our fledgling industry needs many success stories. From a technology perspective, Seabased’s solution is robust and scalable, optimized for moderate wave climates, and mechanically simple with few moving parts.

It has been ocean tested in multiple locations since 2006 and we have two multi-generator grid-connected demonstration projects under our belt. Since the Åland project in 2012, where a generator ran for 15 consecutive months without issue, we’ve been focused on getting costs down, generation capability up, and looking at the whole system from buoy to grid.

When it comes to technology development, can you provide us with the information on the current Seabased situation and plans for the future technology developments?

We will of course be focused on R&D for many years to come. In the short term, whole system optimization will continue to be a major priority. As to the longer term, that will be decided both by opportunities in the emerging market and the ingenuity of the people of Seabased.

Since inception, the people of Seabased have been driven by a love of the challenge of creating technical solutions that create a triple win for people, planet, and profit; they get it that all three have to work together in order for us to have a viable solution. I can’t wait to find out where that takes us.

(Photos: Seabased)

Aside from West Africa, what other markets do you see as promising for the application of Seabased technology?

We are looking for locations with adequate wave resources where people need clean affordable energy. It’s too early to call them markets. Markets will arise when countries are willing to invest vigorously in the opportunities wave and marine energy offer, so as to build a healthy marine renewables industry. That said, our opportunities are truly global in scope. In addition to West Africa, we are currently negotiating with potential customers in regions as diverse as Latin America, the Caribbean, the Indian Ocean, and Southeast Asia.

How do you predict wave energy sector would develop in the future, and what needs to be done to accelerate its growth?

The market needs to be developed in parallel with developing the industry. This implies actively exploring marine resources in a potential market, and adapting technologies to its realities. It also implies a strong will and commitment in both public and private sectors to invest in harvesting renewable energy from their oceans, and to stick with this commitment when things don’t turn out perfectly the first time.

A prerequisite to a healthy culture of innovation is room to fail.

At the same time, the innovators need to stay focused on the commercial end goal; the price has got to be competitive per kWh delivered. This is needed for wave but also for the whole marine renewable sector. Finally, we need to find creative approaches to mitigating risk so as to enable better – and certainly quicker – financing. New tech is, by definition, higher risk, and financial institutions are notoriously risk averse. This is a challenge for almost all new tech, not just marine renewables.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

I hope the project will inspire marine renewable energy companies around the globe. It certainly proved that the Seabased team, and the dedicated community of private and public investors that have gotten us this far, have been on the right track. And their determination is paying off.

This opportunity did not arise out of a void; it’s the result of almost two decades of hard work and passion from a large community that just wouldn’t give up. These are the people who provided us the talent, and means, and energy to pursue our goals. We hope and expect the marine renewable energy companies to join us in building a robust and expanding new industrial sector.

Interview prepared by Amir Garanovic