Wave Power Funding: Ireland’s Wavebob Raises Interim Round

Wavebob_PICOcean power is managing to float forward during the recession, thanks in large part to government programs and to a lesser extent, private funding. The latest example is 10-year-old wave power company Wavebob, with CEO Andrew Parish telling us this week that it’s raised €3 million ($4.4 million) in a mix of equity funding and grants. Parish views the funds as an interim round that will give the Maynooth, Ireland-based company some breathing room as it works to raise a larger one (Business & Leadership reported that Wavebob was seeking €25 million back in June).

The smaller round is “a reflection of the current climate,” Parish said. “We started the year with the ambition to raise a lot of money and realized it was going to be difficult and expensive.” WaveBob plans to start raising another round of roughly $20 million in the first quarter of next year, by which time Parish predicts fundraising conditions will improve. For one thing, he expects stimulus funding for marine power to start flowing next year.

As for the most recent round, grants from Sustainable Energy Ireland, the Irish government’s clean energy agency, and Enterprise Ireland, a government agency that develops and promotes Irish businesses, accounted for about half of the funding. The rest came from Ireland-based BVP Investments and other private investors – including the company’s first Silicon Valley-based backer, John Hartnett, who is also the chief executive of thin-film solar startup G24 Innovations.

Before that, the company had already raised more than $7 million from the Irish government and investors, including oil company Chevron, Swedish utility Vattenfall, founder William Dick, and angel investors, Parish said. WaveBob is aiming to provide wave power for Chevron’s offshore-drilling platforms one day, but Parish said that no such project is in the works yet.

Government funding is being funneled toward other ocean-power-focused companies as well. Wave energy company Open Energy and tidal energy company OpenHydro also scored grants from the Sustainable Energy Ireland this month, among others, and Finnish wave power company AW-Energy last week announced it had signed a $4.4 million contract with the European Union to demonstrate its WaveRoller technology in Portuguese waters.

Good thing these government programs are there to help out; ocean power has also had its share of bad news. A wave power project off the coast of Portugal is on hold after its largest investor, Babcock & Brown, filed for bankruptcy and pulled out. Applications for wave power projects in California have been withdrawn as well, including two permits and a license for Finavera, which won a contract with San Francisco-based utility Pacific Gas & Electric (s pcg) only to have the Public Utilities Commission reject the proposed project last year. Finavera has since turned away from wave power to focus on wind.

Wavebob, meanwhile, is still in the testing and demonstration phase. The company has been testing –- and generating revenue from -– a series of 30kW wave-power devices in an Irish testing facility in Galway Bay since 2006 and plans to put its fourth-generation prototype in the water at the beginning of next year. And it’s developing a 250MW demonstration project off the west coast of Ireland with Vattenfall, as well as working on a demonstration project in Portuguese waters due in the third quarter of 2011.

Parish said the company aims to have projects up and running in U.S. waters in 2012 and 2013, when Wavebob expects it will be ready for its commercial launch. Parish says that wave power technology, as a whole, is still 2-3 years away from true commercial rollouts. “This isn’t the wind sector; you can’t stick 100 devices in an array today.”