Interview with Rodrigo Prodohl, Wello
“Wello... Now this is a cool company!” That was my first thought when I bumped into their webpage while researching alternative energy sources. Coincidentally, I somehow managed to connect with Rodrigo at the All-Energy 2019 Conference in Glasgow and he accepted my invitation to be interviewed.
Wave energy isn’t the cool kid on the block when it comes to renewable energy, and many people miss it altogether. That said, while it is low key, it most certainly is interesting and has immense potential. I think you’ll find this interview very interesting, plus, it may just make you realize the value of wave energy in the whole renewables package.
How did this whole project start?
This whole thing got started in 2008 by our CEO Heikki Paakkinen. From a young age, he had been tinkering around with vessels and devices that would be able to successfully convert the power in the waves to useable electrical energy. In 2008 Heikki and his brother Antti founded Wello to do just that, with the goal of making wave energy affordable and as environmentally neutral as possible. Along with other experts from around the globe, they designed the Penguin Wave energy converter. The design of the simplicity of the device quickly gained interest with funding coming in from multiple sources, enabling us to create the first prototype of the Penguin which was deployed in 2012 in Orkney.
At what stage is your company’s development currently at, and how long did it take to get to this point? What are the next steps?
Wello has been developing well, especially in the last few years where our business model has become more solidified and what we provide as a company has finally become more concrete. For a time, we were convinced that the best course of action would be to directly produce wave energy converters and sell them as a product. However, our current model is quite a bit different. Now Wello sells the “Penguin Core”: a know-how package which includes licensing of the device for a site and size of energy park.
This package provides the basis on how to construct and run the device as well as our own expertise and aid throughout a project. The concept behind this was to give the end users the power to create their own devices and parks: allowing devices to be built locally and onsite, saving on transport costs, lowering CO2 emissions and promoting local economies. We are constantly working on improving our own technology with a strong emphasis on R&D to optimize the concept. In the coming months, we will see our commercially ready device in Orkney which we are eagerly anticipating. We hope that with this device we will shed the title of “wave energy developer” and be recognized as a fully commercial wave energy company.
Has the funding been challenging so far?
Acquiring funding typically requires a considerable bit of work and time, so it’s never truly easy. We have been fortunate enough though, to succeed in reaching the current funding levels so far. We’ve also received additional funding from two crowdfunding campaigns, which in our opinion shows that there is a desire for more alternative energy sources and that people would like to see Wello succeed on the global energy market.
What has been the most challenging part of the Penguin design? Is there still something that needs special attention to be improved?
The most challenging part of the Penguin design has been designing a device that can perform the maximum amount of rotational movement from the waves as possible. Because the device extracts energy from the pitch and roll motion of the waves, the hull needs to be designed to work in harmony between these two forces. We have been striving to match these forces to optimize the rotation, which will be felt by the device at many different sea states. The more pitch and roll we can convert from a particular wave, the more energy the Penguin can produce in return. We are still working towards further designs for the Penguin, both regarding energy production and in reducing the costs of the device.
Are you planning to concentrate your production, or is it going to be decentralized around the globe?
Our business model is that we ourselves don’t produce the entire devices. We sell know-how and licensing of our product. This allows any utility provider, shipyard or site manager from anywhere to produce Penguins under Wello’s license. For those that do not want to be directly involved in the production of the Penguin, we are working with various partners from all corners of the globe which would be able to facilitate the production of the device.
How is the legislation in the ocean areas determined? Have you had any problems so far?
The legislation is typically handled by a country/state governing body and we generally do not have a part in that. The most challenging aspect of it is the introduction of wave energy devices to an area in general. Even though the industry itself has been around for quite some time, there are still only a few devices that have reached full-scale deployment such as our own. So, for site developers, the process of sectioning off areas of the ocean for wave energy is a relatively new concept, though one that we are not directly involved in.
Do you have any direct competitors?
There are a few other wave energy companies with good technologies such as the Swedish developer Corpower, Carnegie from Australia and the Lifesaver by Fred Olsen from Norway. However, Lifesaver is the only one with a full-scale deployment.
Even though we technically all are competitors, the current market for wave devices is so small that if one of the companies starts to do well, it will give us all a lift.
How do you see the energy market changing in the foreseeable future?
We foresee the global shift to continue to invest more in renewable and emerging forms of energy. Over the past few years, we have seen more of a public outcry to move away from harmful traditional energy production techniques to something more sustainable. With that said, at the end of the day, there will never be a ‘clear’ winner in the race for energy production. For the world to really be sustainable there has to be an investment in all forms of renewables, since no single source will be able to cater for all of the energy demands. With full commercialization of the Penguin, we foresee that we could have the potential to produce 10% of the global energy demand by 2050.
Will AI and machine learning play a role in Wello’s future?
Machine learning could come into play for Wello in the near future, particularly in the design and the shape of the device. Different waves need different technologies and shapes, so machine learning could help us by gathering information from the current devices and use that for the design of the devices of tomorrow.
Thanks go out to Rodrigo and Wello for accommodating us and taking the time to work with us. It was a fascinating interview, and we wish Wello and Rodrigo all the best.