Jul 28 2016

Case Study: OWC Pico Power Plant

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On a small chain of islands in the middle of the Atlantic sits a large, concrete structure, which holds what many hope to be the future of renewable energy generation in Europe. The European OWC Wave Power Plant was authorized by the European Commission as field site to test the technology of oscillating water column (OWC) wave power as well as observe the success of its design and materials (CORDIS, 1995). Interest in the field of wave energy is growing and the project is an attempt by the Portuguese government to get a better understanding of how these systems could work on a national scale. However, intermittent funding and mechanical limitations have turned what should have been a quick project into a 20-year affair that is still struggling to operate continuously.



The main idea behind the power plant is the use of an OCW, or oscillating water column. A turbine is located behind a large chamber, known as the pneumatic chamber, which sits seven meters above the ocean floor (CORDIS, 1995). As waves crash against the front of the structure, water flows into the chamber, causing the water level to rise and sink. The air above the water in the chamber is forced through the turbine and causes the blades to spin. The turbine is connected to a generator that turns the kinetic energy of the blades into electrical energy, which is fed into the power grid further inland (1995). The generator is rated at 500 kW (1995) and during tests run in 2010, the plant was able to produce close to 45 MWh of energy (OWC Pico Power Plant, 2014).

Because of the tumultuous history of operation, the Pico plant has not been the subject of an extensive environmental survey. However, a study was preformed about the potential noise pollution from the plant, both above water and underwater. Above water, the sounds produced were found to be within the audible range for humans, which could potentially effect nearby communities (de Moura, 2010). The results of the underwater study were inconclusive; the hydrophone was unable to be retrieved due to the conditions of the ocean and the data could not be analyzed. However, there is a growing concern over the noise pollution produced underwater because of the “high abundance and diversity of marine mammals”(2010) in the area that could be damaged by the noise.



The plant has seen several investors as a result of the technical problems. The EC supplied an estimated €2-3 million for the initial construction, along with the investment of the EDP and the EDA. Close to €1 million was funded by several organizations including the EDP to bring the plant back online after the original project ran out of funds (Aquaret, 2008). In the past few years, the plant has been unable to receive sufficient funding from any organization. The WavEC Offshore Renewables even launched a public campaign for donations for the project, under the title “Support Wave Energy. Save the Pico Power Plant.” After its completion in 2014, the campaign managed to raise over $55,000, most of which was sponsored by EDA, one of the original partners for the project (Monk, 2014). However, the money raised could not offset the cost of running the plant for the duration of the campaign, which was close to €160 thousand (2014). Without a dedicated investor, the Pico Power plant may not be able to continue operating within the next years.

sea view


The Pico Power Plant is a good example for the problems within the renewable energy sector. It holds great promise and has shown some good results, but overall has proved a difficult project to support. A lot of the technology in this sector is still being developed and perfected, a process that will take a lot of time and money. While attempting to operate the plant has proved problematic, it has also provided much insight into the proper installation of OWC power systems. After every failure or mechanical error, the particular cause was addressed and the overall design was improved. The researchers were able to determine what doesn’t work as much as what does work for an OWC power plant, both of which are equally important in pioneering new technology. To many, financing this profit-less project may seem like a waste of time, but the real benefit of funding the Pico plant is to greatly advance green technology, hopefully long before we actually need it.






de Moura, A., Carvalho, M., Patrício, S., Nunes, N., Soares, C., 2010, Airborne and underwater noise assessment at the Pico OWC Wave Power Plant, ICOE, www.icoe-conference.com

EUROPEAN COMMISSION, 1995, European wave energy pilot plant on the island of Pico, Azores, Portugal, Community Research and Development Information Service, http://cordis.europa.eu/project/rcn/21567_en.html

Monk, K., 2014, Closing of the “Support Wave Energy. Save the Pico Power Plant” campaign, OWC Pico Power Plant, http://www.pico-owc.net/news.php?cat=83&newid=315&wnsid=25ec0200d2a007c50f433e5390548ec7

2008, Case Study- European OWC pilot plant Pico/Azores, Aquaret, http://www.aquaret.com/images/stories/aquaret/pdf/cswavepico.pdf

2014, OWC Pico Power Plant, WavEC Offshore Renewables, http://www.pico-owc.net/

2016, Pico Oscillating Water Column, TETHYS, https://tethys.pnnl.gov/annex-iv-sites/pico-oscillating-water-column

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