Energy COOL: Swell Electricity from the Sea

Since diving into the deep end when it comes to energy issues, almost every day sees new fascinating concepts, approaches, and technologies.  Exciting. Hope inspring. Truly Energy COOL.

As with so many, burning logs in the fireplace and crashing waves on the shore have fascinated, been able to hold my rapt attention.  Perhaps that is one reason why developments in ocean Power so enthrall me.  Power from the sea looks to be on a rapid path toward meaningful contributions to moving toward a Prosperous, Climate Friendly Society.

Well, from EcoGeek comes news of yet another ocean power generation development, one that is rather innovative and could represent a world changing-like approach that could rapidly help people around the globe develop a renewable and sustainable electrical system.

Swell Fuel is a small company (inventor and ???) focused on exploiting near shore power. (Think those just beyond those hypnotic crashing waves.)  

Swell Fuel is exciting, for many reasons. One, the demonstration of what one motivated/bright individual can achieve.  From the inventor:

I’m the guy that made this contraption.  What made me want to do this had a lot to do with me being a surfer. The night before Katrina hit my son and I were surfing at Surfside TX, and the waves at about 8:30 p.m. got about 12 feet. I felt so small and powerless in those huge waves.  I started thinking how we could harness all this power.

Get it. Conceptually, this is barely two-years old.  And, well, think of the inspiration path.

I started making drawings of ways to harness this energy, but I had no proof that they would work. I’m a dyslexic jack of all trades and master of none and I figured that I could make prototypes that could prove my ideas wrong or right.  Wow, the ocean is hard to tame. I started making prototypes and studying waves. Each prototype worked at least a little and I tried many completely different approaches. I compressed air, I made electricity, I made heavy ones and light ones, each one taught me something. After making and testing 15 or 20 prototypes I started looking on the internet and realized I was not the first to try. I looked at hundreds of patents going as far back as the 1890’s, and with my new knowledge of the harsh reality of the ocean conditions, I could tell you whether or not these old patents had any chance of making the energy and surviving the ocean condition. Man made things have a way of getting destroyed in the ocean.

Well, don’t know about you, but Christopher is capturing me with his description. Humble … humorous … thoughtful … dedicated … resourceful … Hmmm. This is written to help sell himself and his idea?  Well, this is one customer who is ready to start talking business.

We knew that New Orleans would flood and hold water in a big storm surge but we just hoped it would not happen. We know that one day the oil will stop flowing but just hope it won’t happen in our lifetime. I know it sounds crazy but it might be wise to be prepared this time.
     People talk about the CO2 in our atmosphere and talk about what we are going to do. Humanity is in a stampede and will not stop burning things till there is nothing to burn and hopefully the earth will recover someday. Not ever the mighty Christopher can stop the stampede.

Okay, well, maybe a little more humility … But, well, I hope that his vision of the future is not reached. If we burn it all (coal, oil, gas, peat, methane hydrates), it is hard to see how we have a meaningful future on the planet and how humanity is around when the earth recovers.

But, well, what Christopher is developing could help in turning us toward a better path.

The Ocean Energy Converter

In essence, the Ocean Energy Converter is a floating device that generates electricity from wave action tilting and moving it around.  It is

a lever operated pivoting float anchored to the ocean floor, Swell Fuel’s ocean energy converters are designed to withstand pounding waves. The wave motion triggers the movement of the lever, which in turn produces electricity.

The electricity is then sent to shore, potentially for direct usage or for storage for use.

Swell Fuel seems to be on a rapid trajectory upwards.  Swell Fuel has deals with multiple Central American countries (with “the Lever Operated Pivoting Float … licensed in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Belize.”) and a recently completed test effort reported went well.

The concept is to develop a single system that can provide about 350 megawatt hours of electricity / year. (350,000 kwh or, therefore, roughly 30,000 kwh / month.  Average (wasteful) US home is 1000 kwh, thus one of the planned systems would roughly support 30 US homes. Think a more efficient lifestyle in the developing world and, well, perhaps we could multiple this by 5 or 10.  One system might support, therefore, a small town’s requirements.)

At this time, Christopher is running forward. He is now on prototype #36, has a concept (patent pending …) for a new float design, and is pursuing other nations around the globe.

Swell Fuel has been to central American and licensed the lever opperated pivoting float in five countries for developement. This year Swell Fuel will be traveling to West Africa and India. There is great need for energy in these countries and this will stimulate growth, stability and indipendance. “Give a man a fish; you have fed him for today. Teach a man to fish; and you have fed him for a lifetime”.

Christopher seeks to teach electricity fishing from the swells around the world. Here is someone that I hope makes a lot of green by helping the globe go Green.  

Contemplating Swell Fuel

There are many fascinating elements to this approach and technology.

Let me raise just a few:

  1.  Scalability.  Small or larger system.  One or a few to a few thousand.  A home to (some portion of) a city.  
  1.  Affordability.  Going back to the scalability. Start small and, incrementally, add more to an existing infrastructure.
  1.  Managing Intermittency: The inventor’s approach to dealing with the intermittency challenge is quite insightful:  link the system to an air compressor and using the stored air to generate a consistent power supply. (And, well, stored air generation can respond quickly to changing demands for power.)
  1.  Accessibility:  This is something that can, rapidly, could be introduced in remote areas, into the developing world, or even off a wealthy beach resort.  The technology for power storage is, well, extremely straightforward and commonly accessible; any mechanic would be able to set up and deal with an air compressor-based electricity back up system.
  1.  Infrastructure creation:  This is a fast path toward a renewable power system. Not quite as fast as putting up solar panels but not far behind. This also could be done, quickly, in remote areas. And, well, again, this can mesh into an existing power system or be an independent, off-grid power supply.
  1.  Environmental impact:  There is no such thing (that I am aware of) as zero impact energy.  This, however, looks to be an option at the very low end.  Beyond the construction impact and the wires bringing power ashore, About the only thing would be, it seems to me, would be restrictions on shipping and fishing. But, this actually could have an environmental benefit.
  1.  Power of the individual:  One individual. Inventive, insightful, dedicated, passionate has the power to change the world.

Let us be quick clear, Christopher has not saved the world. Swell Fuel is no Silver Bullet that will solve all our problems.  But … but … this is the type of exciting, Energy COOL development that is part of a holistic path toward a Prosperous, Climate Friendly Society.  We need to be working energy efficiency. We need to have conservation and changed usage patterns. And, well, we need to be pursuing renewable energy.  Ocean Power is one exciting arena as to the last and Swell Fuel looks to be a nice addition to the portfolio of ocean energy options.

Ask yourself:  Are you doing
your part to


Are you ready
  to do your part?


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