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Award-winning Waikato student researching wave power for sustainable energy

31 October 2019

A University of Waikato PhD student plans to harness the power of New Zealand’s coastlines to provide affordable, clean and sustainable electricity using wave power.

Danielle Bertram, originally from South Africa, has been studying the ocean’s potential to generate renewable energy and she believes New Zealand’s vast coastlines mean we’re well placed to use the technology.

Ms Bertram’s previous research, completed in Ireland, focused on the development and analysis of wave energy converters, the technology that converts waves into useable energy. Her PhD work, at the University of Waikato, is aimed at providing the broad-based methods on how to deliver that wave energy economically and sustainably.

She said commercial wave energy farms were already being installed worldwide, but there weren’t many people working in the field in New Zealand. Her PhD study would focus on the best kind of sites to employ wave energy converters, the best technology to use and the modelling of wave energy farms to test their efficiency.

“Electricity is an integral part of life in modern society, and how we generate that electricity will ensure future generations thrive. Blue energy, or more specifically wave energy, is an ideal addition to any coastal country’s energy mix,” said Ms Bertram.

Approximately 40 per cent of the world’s population live in coastal areas and Ms Bertram said there were great opportunities for using wave energy converters to generate electricity.

“It’s an exciting time to be in this space as the technology is developing at a rapid pace,” she said.

Ensuring global access to affordable and clean energy by 2030 is the seventh of the 17 United Nation’s Sustainable Developments Goals. The world was still falling short of all the clean energy targets set, however, with approximately 1 billion people still living without access to electricity, she said.

“Ocean wave energy is considered to be one of the most promising sources of clean, reliable, and renewable energy, and it is estimated that when this sector reaches maturity, it will be able to meet approximately 10 per cent of the global energy demand,” Ms Bertram said.

Ms Bertram said ocean energy formed part of a broader emerging field known as the ‘Blue Economy’, which The World Bank refers to as the sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improved livelihoods and jobs, and ocean ecosystem health.

“Our oceans are crucial in supporting life on earth, as they regulate our climate, but they also support three billion people who rely on them for food security, employment, as well as economic development,” said Ms Bertram.

“The idea of a blue economy sees us integrate both environmental and social sustainability to safeguard our oceans and therefore the world’s future prosperity.”

Ms Bertram recently received the New Zealand Coastal Society ‘Coasts and Ports’ Student Award, allowing her to attend the Australasian Coasts and Ports conference in Hobart, Australia, where some of her research was presented.

“There are very few people in New Zealand in the ocean energy space. My presentation was met with overwhelmingly positive feedback.”

She has now been asked to attend the 2020 Asian Wave and Tidal Energy (AWTEC) Conference by the conference chair.

“It meant a great deal to me personally, as it means that experts in my field find my research valuable and interesting.”

As well as that award, Danielle has also recently received the ‘Best Poster Award’ (out of 146 others) at the Process Integration, Modelling and Optimisation for Energy Saving and Pollution Reduction conference in Greece.

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