Pico OWC was built as the European Wave Energy Pilot Plant, co-funded by the EC, in order to demonstrate the technical viability of wave energy in a small Island grid.
The Project started in 1992 backed by the utilities EDP (mainland) and EDA (regional), and its construction was concluded in 1999 under coordination of IST (Instituto Superior Técnico). However, several technical problems and lack of funding to address them after construction caused interruption of the project during several years.
Shortly after its creation in 2003, the WavEC Offshore Renewables (former Wave Energy Centre) took over responsibility of the plant recovering the original layout with financial support of national funding and of some of its associates.
The first test ran in 2005 and revealed the persistence of serious technical limitations of the original structure of the turbo-generation group, which were not possible to resolve entirely with the available funding. However the team involved in this project has insisted in the maintenance and continuous improvement of the plant, yielding increasing operation hours, availability and power production in the period 2006-2008.
In 2008, efforts focused on exploring the possibility of the major overhaul financed primarily by EDP, however after the first phase of the project it was suspended due to doubts in the structural longevity of the concrete structure. Since 2006, WavEC has been maintaining the operation of the plant mostly with own means (very limited due to the technical challenge involved). Significant improvements have been achieved since 2009, especially significant improvements of the vibrations of the turbine-generator, a mechanical problem that had prevented better functioning of the plant.
In 2010 more improvements were made, especially with an additional safety circuit, providing sufficient confidence in the autonomous operation (without an operator on site) of the OWC.During 2010 minor technical difficulties delayed the fully operation ofthe plant, but gradually the implementation of the autonomous andremote control of the plant was concluded and a webcam was installed onsite, and is now available on this website. After successful tests withthe autonomous operation of the Plant from September to December 2010, atotal annual production of 45 MWh was achieved in 1450 hours ofoperation.
During 2011 the priority of the project is the preparation of the plant’sstructure to accommodate a second platform to conduct testing ofturbines. The plant is ready to accommodate two turbine ducts of equalsize (suitable for testing equipment between 100KW and 700kW), and inthe past, only one of these ducts, equivalent of half of the availablespace in the plant, was used.
The situation of the Pico plant worsened since 2012 when the European project Wavetrain2 finished. This project covered some expenses of the Pico plant, namely part of the human resources.
Recent Progress and Vision
In 2013 some activities of the Pico plant were able to be funded by the European MariNET project that gathers 40 European test infra-structures with relevance to Offshore Marine Renewable Energy. The Pico plant is one of the infra-structures of this group, recognized as the only real scale plant. This means that teams that applied to test the plant can be funded by this project. In October 2013 the plant received a team of Irish researchers of the University College Cork.
The year of 2013 was market by the efforts to obtain funding for the Pico plant, namely from the Regional Government of the Azores in the aim of EU funding for the region. The idea was to propose an interpretation and test centre and a technical oceanic centre that could give support to the Department of Oceanography and Fisheries, University of the Azores (DOP).
In 2013, the local public utility, EDA - Electricidade dos Açores sponsored (Scientific sponsorship) the Plant with 50.000 Euros. This amount helped to support some human resources at site and operation and maintenance costs.