PowerBreaker and PowerCrabs

Speculative designs for community scale ocean wave energy collection

One aspect of the REDEMA project elaborated future energy storage concepts as a reflection on the topography of the island, through the gravity battery. Another aspect reflects a fundamental principle of the island itself—its endless coastline. These latter designs turn to the coastal zone, and ocean wave energy capture.

The initial explorations of marine renewable energy in the region revealed several recent surveys of wave energy potential in the Madeiran archipelago that suggest this energy source holds real promise for augmenting power generation on the island. While several research projects have probed the idea (and locals recall the presence of a wave energy installation just off the public beach in their childhood memories), the development of renewable energy on the island is limited to hydropower and solar, which accounts for roughly 15% of the island's electricity. Yet a literature review pointed out how often evaluations of renewable energy potential are skewed by financial concerns as financiers expect a return on the investment, which in turn leads to the development and deployment of large scale energy plants with reciprocally high costs of construction and maintenance. We question if in the future other value propositions could become more influential, and imagine a community scale marine renewable energy installation that is not geared towards producing megawatts of energy to fulfill investment returns, but instead kilowatts of energy to power local businesses and clusters of houses along the coast. Design in this space then becomes equally critical and speculative, since the design challenges the status quo of the investor-driven megawatt-scale, and redistributes power both figuratively and literally towards community-scale power generation, owned and run by the citizens of local communities themselves.

To illustrate this, three imaginaries were created—concept works that do not physically exist but serve to focus attention on possible future alternatives to designing renewable energy systems for isolated islands like Maderia. These three future objects are:

The PowerBreaker, a reimagined tetrapod that collects energy …

… the Blue Beast, a somewhat more realistic portable energy collector attached to the breakwater …

… and the PowerCrab, a futuristic concept for semi-autonomous networked energy collectors that would live among the tetrapods, collecting energy and transforming it into electricity.

These speculative designs are described in detail in ‘Towards Sustainable Island Futures: Design for Ocean Wave Energy’ in the Journal of Futures Studies.