Vancouver inventor harnesses power of Georgia Strait to generate electricity

Harnessing wave energy

Inspiration and passion for a life-changing project can strike at a moment’s notice – for Charles Haynes, that moment was 3 a.m. at his cabin on Keats Island over a decade ago.

Just hours before, Haynes had been discussing renewable energies with his wife. To Haynes, solar power would be thwarted by Vancouver’s frequently cloudy skies and as B.C. isn’t known for being all that gusty, wind power was also a no-go. The two went to bed, but hours later Haynes woke and looked out to the waves crashing onto beaches in Howe Sound. After making dozens of inquiries into already existing wave companies looking to get his hands on a wave engine of his own and getting nowhere, Haynes set off to make his own solution.

"I thought 'well I'll just make one, can't be that hard,'" Haynes joked.

That was 11 years ago. Since then, Haynes founded Neptune Equipment Corp. with money he acquired through flipping Vancouver apartment buildings over the last 25 years. It was that capital that allowed Haynes to design and fabricate several prototype wave engines and erect a testing rig in 2018, 800 meters off Wreck Beach.

Previous designs included a large metal arm that would bob up and down in the waves to generate electricity but the arm broke in 2019 sending Haynes back to the drawing board. In 2020, Haynes had a new design and added the Vancouver wave energy test station next to the new and improved engine so others could verify the amount of electrical current made by the engine.

In the barest description possible, Haynes' newest wave engine looks like a “doughnut on a stick.” The "doughnut" is a float that’s three metres in diameter, two metres thick and weighs 10 tonnes. The "stick" is a piling embedded into the seafloor which the float moves up and down on with the waves.

Electricity is generated from this movement using a translator design patented by Haynes and is then sent to resistors housed in the dome above the water.

While B.C.’s coastline doesn’t have the largest waves or tidal movements compared to other parts of Canada or the rest of the world, smaller waves suit Haynes just fine. With his float design, he says the more common faster waves are able to make the engine’s float travel a greater distance than it would with larger slower waves.

Haynes says the engine is capable of producing anywhere from 1-20 kilowatts of power but the most he has ever seen it produce is 12 kW from large waves made during a storm. Most of the year the waves are small, generating between 1 and 4 kW.

"The key thing about waves, which is different from wind and solar, is that waves are continuous power with variability. Whereas solar and wind are intermittent power with variability," Haynes explained. "So with wave energy, there's constant power, there's always some energy there."

An alumnus of the University of British Columbia’s school of architecture, Haynes holds a degree in creative problem solving and has worked as a project manager. Haynes says it is this experience combined with the financial freedom of creating his own company that has allowed him to succeed and fail without dependence on grant money from governments or other organizations.

"I think wave energy will be larger than solar and wind combined. without a doubt. I can't understand why more people haven't got into wave energy," he said.

NeptuneWave Oct 24 2019 Float Movement from Charles Haynes on Vimeo.

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