Wave Energy Vanuatu:Clean, renewable energy from the sea

By Stuart Mathison, Managing Director, Wave Energy Vanuatu Ltd

Vanuatu is striving for Energy Sovereignty, that is, self-sufficiency in its energy needs through sustainable and locally controlled sources. The nation’s small size, geographical isolation, and exposure to global
market fluctuations make the pursuit of Energy Sovereignty not just a matter of national pride, but a vital component of its survival and prosperity. Energy Sovereignty in Vanuatu encompasses the nurturing of island and ocean ecosystems, transitioning from diesel to renewable energy, and combating
climate change by curtailing fossil fuel dependency.

The preservation of Vanuatu’s pristine island and ocean environment is central to the pursuit of Energy Sovereignty. The archipelago’s ecosystem is delicately balanced and vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and pollution. Embracing sustainable energy practices becomes a moral obligation to safeguard the unique flora, fauna, and coastal ecosystems that define Vanuatu’s identity.

Vanuatu’s reliance on imported diesel fuel presents significant economic and environmental challenges. The financial burden of importing fuel is a drain on the nation’s economy, redirecting funds that could otherwise support development. Moreover, diesel combustion contributes to greenhouse gas emissions and local pollution, which are at odds with Vanuatu’s environmental commitments.

Investing in renewable energy infrastructure is a strategic move to alleviate these costs. A shift to
renewables can reduce electricity costs and foster local job opportunities, promoting economic resilience. And reducing diesel dependency not only supports Vanuatu’s financial stability but it also aligns with its ecological and health priorities.

Vanuatu, like other Pacific Island Countries, bears the brunt of climate change with rising sea levels and
extreme weather events threatening its viability as a nation. The imperative to reduce the use of fossil fuels is intertwined with the fight against climate change. By transitioning towards renewable energy sources, Vanuatu can play its role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

While solar and wind power systems have garnered attention globally, Vanuatu stands uniquely positioned to harness the potential of wave energy. Wave energy presents a highly appropriate and advantageous renewable energy source for Vanuatu due to its geographic location surrounded by the expanse of the Pacific Ocean. The consistent and reliable nature of ocean waves provides a continuous and predictable energy source – clean, renewable energy from the sea – differentiating it from the
intermittency associated with solar and wind power.

Wave energy technology involves the capture of kinetic and potential energy from ocean waves, converting it into electricity. Vanuatu can strategically deploy wave energy power-plants along its coastlines, minimizing environmental impact while maximizing energy generation.

Wave energy exhibits distinct advantages over solar and wind power in the context of Vanuatu’s energy needs. Unlike solar power, which is contingent on daylight hours and weather conditions, wave energy remains consistently available, offering a more stable and predictable energy source. Similarly, incomparison to wind power, wave energy does not rely on specific wind patterns, making it a more reliable energy source for a region prone to fluctuating winds.

Moreover, the potential for scalability and low environmental impact further highlights wave energy as an ideal choice for Vanuatu’s energy transition. Wave energy systems can be easily integrated into existing infrastructures and, with proper planning and technology, can operate without substantial disruption to marine ecosystems.

Wave Energy Vanuatu Limited (WEV) is a recently established Vanuatu owned-and-operated bluegreen energy company committed to revolutionizing the electricitygeneration landscape in Vanuatu and
extending to the other Pacific Island Countries. WEV’s immediate goal is to commission and operate a WaveEnergy power plant in Vanuatu utilizing cutting-edge technology developed by the Australian company, Wave Swell Energy Ltd, which converts the energy in ocean waves into clean, zero-emission electricity.

Stuart Mathison is WEV’s Managing Director. “I firmly believe that this project holds immense national significance for Vanuatu. It stands as a crucial step toward liberating Vanuatu from its reliance on diesel fuel, not only from a Climate Change perspective but also in securing Vanuatu’s future ‘energy sovereignty’. Having worked as the Chief Operating Officer of the National Bank of Vanuatu for over 16
years, I have witnessed a remarkable transformation of NBV over this period, and this is a source of immense personal satisfaction. I’m now keen to make a similar positive impact in the energy sector in Vanuatu.”

WEV’s exclusive technology partner is Wave Swell Energy Ltd (WSE), an unlisted Australian public company. CEO Paul Geason says, “WSE has developed a world leading proprietary technology that converts wave energy into electrical energy. The WSE technology produces clean, sustainable electricity without the use of any oil or other contaminants. There are no moving parts in the water. This is an exciting development as waves are predictable, reliable and a naturally occurring infinite resource.”

The WSE technology is based on the well-established concept of the oscillating water column (OWC). The OWC is an artificial blowhole consisting of a chamber that is open underneath the waterline. As waves pass the OWC, the water rises and falls inside, forcing the air to pass by a turbine at the top of the chamber. This turbine generates electricity. Previous OWC technologies have all been bidirectional. The
WSE technology, however, operates unidirectionally. This results in the WSE turbine being simpler, more robust and reliable, and exhibiting a higher energy conversion efficiency. The only moving parts in the technology are the turbine and bespoke valves, all of which are well above the water line. There are no
moving parts in or below the water.

At this early stage of the WEV project, the first task involves consultations with key stakeholders and partners including the Government of Vanuatu, regulators, concession holders and donor partners. Recognizing his central position as Minister for Climate Change Adaption, WEV placed first priority
on engaging with The Hon Ralph Regenvanu MP. Minister Regenvanu says, “I believe that this proposed waveenergy power-plant will be a key project towards securing Vanuatu’s Energy Sovereignty. I am pleased to extend my support to Wave Energy Vanuatu and its technology partner Wave Swell Energy to undertake as soon as possible a comprehensive designand implementation study, and to engage with key industry stakeholders to determine the most appropriate location of the proposed power-plant”.

WEV’s initial consultations also included the Minister of Finance and Economic Management The Hon. John Salong MP who expressed enthusiastic support for WEV’s initiative. “We are supporting investment in renewable energy into our electricity generation mix, to meet consumer demand and achieve the conversion from diesel to renewables. Wave energy provides another critical piece of this solution.”

Achieving Energy Sovereignty in Vanuatu is a multifaceted endeavour, involving policy reform, international support, public-private collaboration, and local participation:

  1. Policy Frameworks: Vanuatu must continue to refine policies that foster renewable energy development, setting clear targets and streamlining regulations to incentivize investments.
  2. International Cooperation and Financing: Access to international aid and climate finance is crucial, enabling Vanuatu to supplement domestic resources with external funding and expertise. This support can come from global partnerships, regional alliances, and climate-focused agencies.
  3. Public-Private Partnerships: Engaging the private sector through partnerships can mobilize capital and technological know-how, sharing the risks and benefits of renewable energy projects. These alliances are essential for driving investment and fostering innovation within Vanuatu’s energy sector.
  4. Community Engagement: Local community involvement is key to the success of renewable energy projects. Incorporating input from community leaders, custom landowners, and residents ensures that initiatives align with local needs and respect cultural practices. Community-driven projects promote local ownership and long-term sustainability of energy infrastructure.
  5. Education and Capacity Building: To sustain the renewable energy transition, Vanuatu needs a
    workforce skilled in these technologies. Educational programs and vocational training can create a pool of local talent for the installation, operation, and maintenance of renewable energy systems. Capacity-building initiatives strengthen the community’s ability to manage energy resources effectively, enhancing Energy Sovereignty. Energy Sovereignty for Vanuatu lies at the intersection of environmental stewardship, economic independence, and resilience against the threats posed by climate change. By reducing reliance on diesel fuel, transitioning towards renewable energy sources,
    and particularly harnessing the vast potential of wave energy, Vanuatu can secure a sustainable and sovereign energy future. Wave Energy Vanuatu, with its technology partner Wave Swell Energy, is set to drive this agenda forward.
Stuart Mathison, Managing Director,
Wave Energy Vanuatu Ltd