Harnessing the Power of the OceanWed, 02/24/2016 - 18:57
In today’s world, tidal and wave power is gearing up to be a sound solution for delivering clean, abundant, and consistent energy. Francisco Javier Carrión, CEO of Marersa, has identified the rich coastline of Mexico, extending over 11,000km, as having significant business potential, but certain technologies still need fine-tuning. For instance, technologies designed for waves 3-5m high need a stronger impact to generate electricity, so they are normally installed at least 1km away from the coast. These systems require a strong connection to the seabed and submarine cables, which increases costs. Another technology is the Pelamis Wave Energy Converter that consists of several partially- submerged hydraulic cylinders pumping oil through hydraulic motors. “This technology is expensive and it also entails several potential problems, such as possible leaks of hydraulic oil, and the need for replacement every two years, which comes at a high cost,” Carrión describes.
Marersa has been inspired to create its own system that tackles some of the limitations technologies face today. “Our system is less expensive, with low operation and maintenance costs. Our generators are manufactured with aerospace steel, which is resistant to corrosion and has been tested in aerospace facilities against accelerated deterioration,” Carrión explains. The greatest advantage of this mechanical generator is that hydraulic oil is no longer needed, making it a 100% clean energy system. “From tests carried out in Naples University, Italy, we discovered that this generator has the potential of 96% efficiency, which is more effective than hydroelectric plants and natural gas facilities,” he adds. This technology has garnered recognition, and in 2008, Marersa obtained a clean energy certificate from the UN.
Carrión recalls the hurdles the company confronted when attempting to develop a 3MW project with CFE called Rosarito. “This project is incomplete because we had problems with CFE’s previous administration. Initially, it provided the wrong location to build the plant, and when pressed for the correct location, it told us that the information belonged exclusively to CFE and could not be shared with contractors,” Carrión laments. This led to Marersa having to design a project with an unspecified location, which naturally did not align with the initial specifications, halting the project development. While most companies would have shied away from developing future projects, Marersa continued to pursue the development of Rosarito.
Change has come in the form of the new administration and Carrión is confident that the government will support renewable technologies. “We see that this administration has been honest and helpful, unlike previous ones, which were more likely to block renewable energy initiatives.” Marersa’s flagship project is evocative of this new mindset and the comparable ease with which it is being developed speaks of crumbling barriers. The project is located in the Lazaro Cardenas port and it began in 2014 when Marersa asked for a concession of 6.7km of the ocean front from the Integral Port Administration (API). This project has a capacity of between 100-140MW, and little environmental impact, since the infrastructure will stand at 15m in front of the wave breakers.
All the equipment will be on top of a platform, so nothing is placed on land except cables to connect to the internal grid.
The uniqueness of this project has enabled the company to tackle the two barriers most projects stumble upon: off- taker availability and financing. To address the former, the port has its own grid so it is possible to connect the wave breakers to the port’s internal grids to supply electricity to all manufacturers inside the port. For the latter, the investment of this project amounts to US$245 million, and while it was difficult to locate financing in Mexico, Marersa found a suitable alternative. “We approached a Korean fund to which we provided land guarantees worth an approximate US$100 million,” he explains. Marersa’s project is estimated to reach 85% efficiency, which can be increased by up to 10% by installing a buoy that follows the frequency of the waves. The buoy is tailored to the exact conditions of the Pacific Ocean in Mexico. The system is also able to manipulate the generator to change its frequencies to predict subsequent waves and follow their frequency. “Our business plan is to use our experience from Lazaro Cardenas port and expand to other ports between 2015 and 2016. After that, we plan to expand to locations without ports, which have no use for tourism, fishing, or other local industries, but are suited to renewables.”