Wello Oy – Wave of Ingenuity
Heikki Paakkinen has been inventing since he was a teenager, and now his innovations are helping revolutionise ocean wave energy.
Heikki Paakkinen has always been an inventor, and from an early age, he had a fascination with wave technology. “As a teenager, I started experimenting and building models and testing technology,” he tells us. “I learned and developed my own principles of how it should be done, encountering my own challenges and figuring out how to tackle them.”
Like most inventors, Paakkinen learned a lot of wrong ways to do something before he hit upon the right one.
“Most of these early ideas were not efficient,” he admits. “You can easily make things move back and forth, or even rotate, but making that happen efficiently is the issue. You lose most of the energy in complicated solutions with lots of intermediate steps.”
As well as figuring out the intricacies of the mechanism itself, Paakkinen also had to take into account the environmental strains wave technology is placed under.
“Having this moving element in the water that is very challenging, complicated and expensive to construct,” he tells us. “So, my idea was to find a solution that encloses the technical part of the device inside, away from the seawater.”
The Eureka Moment
Paakkinen’s innovation helps in two different ways. It makes it easier and cheaper to build, and it improves the efficiency of the device because all the movement takes place in contact with air instead of seawater. As well as dealing with the problem of seawater, Paakkinen also wanted to create a device with movement that was based on rotation instead of the more traditional “back and forth” movement most wave generators use.
“I ruminated on these two elements and hit upon the idea of an asymmetric floating hull which moves in a specific way in the waves,” Paakkinen recalls. “It gyrates instead of rocking or pitching, so it has a rotational inclination. That then forces an eccentric mass inside the device to rotate, which turns the generator.”
Once he had the basic idea, Paakkinen’s next task was to refine it.
“I did experiments and testing and small-scale models and got it running,” he says. “Based on that I then started applying for the patent and establishing the company.”
That company was established 13 years ago and from the beginning, Paakkinen understood he was onto something big. He began looking for funding and gathering a team around himself.
Paakkinen was fortunate in that he was establishing his company in Finland- a country that has traditionally been friendly to technology start-ups.
“The easiest phase for funding was in the beginning- in Finland, it’s an environment very friendly to technology development,” Paakkinen tells us. “That made the early phases very easy. Then later on we had EU Funding and the Horizon funding programmes from the EU. Now we are in the phase of commercialising the product and we have a lot of customer contacts developing. We’re looking for investors to bring the company forward.”
Primarily, however, Wello Oy’s focus has remained on one area.
“We got everything running pretty fast and got good subsequent funding,” Paakkinen tells us. “Since then, our work has mainly been around technology development.”
As with the development of Paakkinen’s first invention, developing new technologies is not a process without its fallbacks and obstacles.
“There were setbacks and money used and spent and a lot of lessons learned in the experiment of trying to make this invention at full scale,” Paakkinen says. “We have failed several times and looked for better solutions.”
Indeed, Wello Oy has developed solutions to some of the central issues in wave energy which none of its rivals has managed to address.
“It’s a mindset thing- we’re always looking for a better solution and how to solve that challenge,” Paakkinen points out. “In the early phases of the company I started hiring people who were interested in technological development. We hired scientists and researchers so that the whole company in the early stages was based on innovation and problem solving and developing all these elements that were necessary for the technology.”
As well as developing the technology, Wello Oy has become efficient at putting its stamp on its innovations, applying 14 families of patents around the globe.
Reliable as the Tides
With a lifetime of personal investment and research in the sector, it’s clear Paakkinen has a passion for wave energy and believes it can play an important role in the renewable energy mix.
“The issue with two of the very strong sources of renewables, solar and wind, is that the production levels vary a lot,” Paakkinen points out. “There are long periods without any production or generation. With solar power, production is only realistic for a third of the day, late evenings, night-time, and morning there is no production at all. Even then, it depends on weather, climate and location.”
As Paakkinen tells us, wind faces similar issues, with occasional peaks and long fallow periods, making renewable energy a challenging sector. Waves, however, are there always. Waves store the wind energy and reveal it steadily.
“Wave energy as a source is much more stable than wind or solar. It’s pretty much constant, depending only on the location,” Paakkinen says. “We are able to generate almost constantly. If you have a share of wave energy in the renewable energy mix you don’t need that much backup power. In that sense wave energy is more valuable than these other renewables that have more variation in production.”
While it is clear Paakkinen is fascinated by the technical challenges in devising better wave power solutions, he never loses focus on the reason these innovations are necessary.
“The main reason for developing this technology is you are looking for solutions for clean energy, so its’ fascinating to figure out and develop something that utilises nature and the energies available there for energy production,” he says. “For me, it’s been a driving force, the dream of getting something for free! The constant energy flow in energy you can take advantage of! When you are developing something for such a purpose, you have to pay attention to every part of your solutions to ensure they are also environmentally friendly. That is a key part of the business.”
This is why Wello Oy’s devices have stopped using concrete ballast, instead pumping sediment from the seabed to weigh their devices in place.
“When the device’s lifetime is at the end you can just release the ballast back into the sea!” Paakkinen points out. “You can recycle everything.”
Paakkinen is positive that the company will grow fast over the very near future, with an extensive pipeline of projects, some aiming to tens and hundreds of megawatts of deployment. Wello Oy is a company whose time has arrived.
“We are in a very good position now there’s a lot of focus on energy and renewables,” Paakkinen concludes.