Neptune 5 testing the wave-power waters off Point Grey

“In Georgia Strait there are eight million waves in a year," says Vancouver entrepreneur

Inventor and entrepreneur Charles Haynes is testing the latest version of his Neptune wave power generator in the waters off Point Grey.

Haynes, a part-time resident of Keats Island, raised a few eyebrows in 2016 when he tested earlier versions of Neptune at a moorage just offshore from his property.

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His company, Vancouver-based Neptune Equipment, has now been granted a two-year investigative use licence from the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, and Neptune 5B was installed about 800 metres off Point Grey in late February.

It’s easy to spot. The bright yellow 15-metre-diameter dome is attached to a set of pilings and the peak sits about six metres above sea level at high tide. There are also floats on hinged arms extending from the central pillar. 

It’s the movement of those arms as the floats bob up and down in the waves that creates the power.

Haynes said the location off Point Grey offers several advantages, including more reliable and predictable wave action.

The original inspiration for Neptune was small-scale power generation for off-the-grid communities or homes along the coastline. Neptune 5 is being tested to generate heat and treat seawater to make it potable.

“I’m concentrating on desalination and using electricity for heating rather than electricity for grid tie-in,” Haynes said. “For desalination we use the pump action from the waves to create pressure in a tank to force the seawater against a reverse osmosis membrane.”

Haynes said one of the challenges he’s grappling with is converting the small bursts of electricity created by wave motion into smooth, steady current.

“It’s more complicated to produce electricity from a pulsed wave source than if it were a river or wind or solar … and since my goal is to get something that’s working and can be sold, the desalination or the use of electricity for heating are simpler to make.”

Haynes said he’s looking to old technology – flywheels – to overcome the challenge of producing steady current. He said the typical solution, using capacitors or batteries to store and release power, isn’t suited for ocean conditions.

“In Georgia Strait there are eight million waves in a year. If you count both up and down, that gives you 16 million cycles,” Haynes said. “Capacitors have a duty life of around 500,000 [cycles] and batteries are way less.”   

Haynes has been collecting comments through his website and he said there have been one or two jokes about Neptune looking like a big yellow mushroom.

“I’ve also had lots of opinions encouraging me,” he said. Engineering students from UBC Okanagan and North Island College have also shown interest in Haynes’ work.

Haynes said he expects to finish his testing before the two-year licence is up, and he’s offered others the opportunity to use the pilings and platform for their own research purposes.

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