Forgotten renewables play Carnegie riding high on Hewlett Packard backing

Headshot of Ben Harvey
Ben Harvey
The Nightly
Carnegie Clean Energy Chief Executive Jonathan Fievez.
Carnegie Clean Energy Chief Executive Jonathan Fievez. Credit: Michael Wilson/The West Australian

Carnegie Wave Energy.

Name ring a bell?

It was an Australian company that was going to generate electricity by harnessing the power of the giant waves that smash into the south coast of WA.

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It’s chief executive, Michael Ottaviano, was the poster child of the renewable energy future and won great slabs of government funding as senior MPs drank the Kool-Aid he started dispensing in 2003.

A generation of politicians and investors were transfixed by his dream of anchoring giant buoys to the sea floor which used the motion of passing waves to drive pumps that spun electricity turbines on the shore at Albany.

Mr Ottaviano’s backers included corporate heavy-hitters such as former AFL chairman Mike Fitzpatrick. Influential WA politician Alannah MacTiernan was a strong supporter at both State and Federal levels.

Julia Gillard toured the company’s Rous Head facility when she was prime minister and a succession of Labor heavyweights, including Bill Shorten, Gary Gray, Martin Ferguson and Ian Macfarlane line up for photo opportunities over the years.

When Carnegie landed a contract to supply the navy with power from a pilot project off Garden Island near Perth, investors thought they had a front row seat to a highly sought-after show — a commercially profitable energy company producing cheap, clean and endless power.

It wasn’t to be. The offshore kit started failing as it was pounded by monstrous surf and an investment in a micro-grid provider didn’t produce the cashflow Carnegie urgently needed. When the WA Government pulled funding in 2019 the party ended.

After hitting highs of 28¢ in its heyday the stock languished around 4¢ as investors saw little blue sky.

Fast-forward five years and the renamed Carnergie Clean Energy has a new corporate champion — technology behemoth Hewlett Packard Enterprise.

HPE chief executive Antoni Neri talked up his company’s AI collaboration with Carnegie at the recent Discover conference in Las Vegas.

The HPE-curated reinforcement learning program coaches Carnegie’s offshore buoys to work more efficiently in the surf. They can now wring a lot more energy from each wave.

The thousands of people who attended the conference last month saw a wave tank demonstration of Carnegie’s improved kit and methodology.

That someone of Mr Neri’s standing (he shared the stage in Las Vegas with Nvidia boss Jeremy Huang) had the confidence to align himself with Carnegie at such a public event speaks volumes about how far the energy minnow has come since 2019.

Jonathan Fievez, who replaced Mr Ottaviano as chief executive, has been quietly working to perfect the technology that was first trialled two decades ago. Knowing that investors would blush at a fresh capital raising, Mr Fievez sought funding from the European Union.

“EuropeWave is based on a competitive tender for contracts and Carnegie was one of 36 applicants,” Mr Fievez, who worked as Carnegie’s chief technology officer before taking over as boss.

“We were ranked first after the conclusion of the two competitive phases and were awarded a €3.75 million ($6.06 million) phase three contract.

“This win came with first choice of deployment sites and the Basque country in northern Spain was selected. Orders are currently being placed for equipment and subcontracts awarded ahead of the planned launch in mid 2025. There’s also a growing team in the city of Bilbao.”

Carnegie hasn’t given up on Australia. It recently deployed a new version of it’s wave-to-power infrastructure that keeps generators on barges that are close to the buoys.

“The wave-to-electricity conversion modules are integrated on deck, with the first commercial target being the aquaculture industry,” Mr Fievez said.

“The technology allows feed barges to reduce their diesel consumption by 50 per cent in the early versions and up to 100 per cent with later ones.

“Tassal and Huon Aquaculture are Australia’s largest producers and are partners on the project. They see the need to move further offshore to reduce nutrient concentrations in protected waters, improve fish health and take advantage of renewable energy to achieve their stated sustainability goals.”

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