"We all need to think and design solutions to lower the environmental impact"
Kuma Energy (KE) is an Italian start-up that develops projects to generate electricity from ocean waves with the lowest impact on the environment.
In this interview, Ezio Pellegro, the Strategy and Management Advisor of KE talks about his company, the situation of blue energy in the Mediterranean and future of renewable energies.
Ezio has a long-term experience as executive in multinational organizations in the Hi-tech and Information Technology sectors. Also he's been working as Strategic Advisor for start-ups up SME’s helping define business models and plans, optimize business operations and accelerate the business growth.
An impressive career path now focused on energy efficiency solutions at KE.
But let’s start by the beginning, Why did you decide to set up a company so specialized in this sector?
The Team is made of people who bring along a thorough and exhaustive range of skills: port and offshore services, business management, marine and civil engineering, consulting. Some of us used to cooperate with research centres and universities in designing near-to-shore or offshore wave conversion prototypes. It's been easy to share the idea to create Kuma Energy and to join together into a new business project.
Tell us more about Kuma Energy. What do you do? What are your products or services?
Kuma Energy designs and manufactures onshore wave energy converters (WEC). Its mission is to develop technologies for a sustainable transition to renewable sources. We believe that sustainability is a key factor not only for technical and financial reasons but as a comprehensive approach intended to reduce the impact on the environment, preserving the marine ecosystems and restoring the ocean health.
What is your innovative factor that makes you different from other companies?
Our main goal is to develop low-impact onshore systems. The ECOMar system is designed to be installed onto existing breakwaters, dams or quays. No need for new infrastructures, mooring systems, submarine cables, underwater activities or seabed digging.
Of course we target a proper LCOE but we want to focus on lowering the operating costs as well as Capex and Opex. ECOMar is controlled and operated by an automation system that in case of severe weather conditions overturns the whole system back to the top of the quay.
The same feature is used for maintenance operations, and people can work safely, in secure and cost-effective conditions."WE NEED TO PLAN A SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT OF RENEWABLES, THAT INCLUDES ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL ISSUES."
Marine renewable energies are beginning to develop now and will create many jobs in a short future. What is the profile in demand for this sector? What qualities do you think workers should have to create a good team?
The marine renewable energy is supposed to be accessible and at hand. But, as for any renewable and clean source, many are the difficulties and the side-effects. In the blue sector, as well as in the green sector at large, we need not only face technical issues, like efficiency or intermittency.
We need to plan a sustainable development of renewables, that includes economic and social issues. It is not surprising that renewables are considered as a solution until someone realizes that there can be conflicts with other activities (fishing, shipping, tourism etc) or, even worse, when considering the strong impacts that marine exploitation can have on the environment.
The Mediterranean is a weak, fragile basin and we need to respect and preserve the marine life, the ecosystems, but also the coastal beauty. Public acceptance is often limited by the "nimby" syndrome that represents a strong barrier to the development of renewables. That's a fact and can't be neglected.
Marine energy exploitation should not be a technical matter only but a cultural approach, an open mindset, aimed at preserving the coastlines, the marine surface and the submarine environment. Vision, management skills, open-mindedness are important qualities just like engineering and technical skills.
Why do you think is it necessary to invest in marine renewable energy?
We need to use the word "exploiting" wisely. The terms "renewable" and "clean" cannot be used improperly or superficially or as a master key for altering the coastline, the marine surface or the submarine ecosystems.
We need to rethink our approach in order to design solutions that respect the environment and not merely use it. Our job is to have such an ambition and try, at least.
The ocean has an enormous energy that can turn to be an incredible opportunity to meet the need for electricity. But that energy is not to be cynically exploited.
We should think about gentle, non-invasive forms of transforming that energy into something useful not only for us but possibly for marine protection and environmental scopes. That's why it is important to invest in marine energy and in sustainable and respectful ways of using it.
We do not want to install our systems inside a marine park or a reserve or wherever. Our duty is to try to use the existing and available infrastructures, so we designed our systems as to having no need for pouring concrete or digging the seabed or building brand new moorings.
Whatever the renewable source, we all need to think and design solutions to lower the environmental impact. That's our duty and our heritage to future generations. Our idea is not only to provide a reliable and efficient energy conversion technology but also designing an easy-to-operate, safe and secure platform."RENEWABLE ENERGY WILL HAVE SUCCESS IF IT WILL BE SEEN AS A STRATEGIC AND COLLECTIVE TARGET."
How do you see the world of renewable energy today? What do you think the sector needs to take off and increase investments in this area? How can its use and development be promoted?
The history of marine energy has showed that the process towards the commercial phase needs big investments and it is time-consuming. We all know that renewables are unpredictable and conversion technologies have not been so efficient so far. As for blue energy, the marine environment is harsh and often hostile and dangerous, so R&D and operational costs can easily skyrocket.
Anyway, there is so much blue energy that innovative conversion technologies could provide a large amount of our energy needs. We need to find a way but any of us can't go ahead on its own. There is so much at stake beyond making a successful business.
Renewable energy will have success if it will be seen as a strategic and collective target. The cooperation among research centres, universities, government and business is mandatory in order to tackle such challenges. Research, technological transfer, financial support and a strong social and environmental policy are the keywords to the success of the blue economy. Kuma Energy is Italian and European: the countries within the European Union must make a choice on what the future of our energy provision will be and foster research, promote and sustain the best innovative businesses and plan a wider and integrated development for renewables to become a future strategic asset and a competitive advantage for the Union.
Do you think we could maintain our current lifestyle alone with renewable energy?
This is a really complex question to answer. I think that renewable energy is vital but intermittency and low efficiency are still important issues as well as competitiveness of production costs.
There is a lot of work to be done on innovative conversion technologies. With the increase of the energy demand I think that we still need to find a fair balance between renewable sources and traditional sources.
Nonetheless we need to proceed with determination towards alternative and clean energy sources. There are political and organizational matters that are as important as technological innovation in order to design and plan a sustainable transition to clean energy, whatever sources will be.
While we are bound to develop new, clean energy technologies, we need to rethink our behaviors and lifestyles, targeting how to use our resources better and more efficiently. This process should include politics, organization, business models, strategy and technology.
We should not be focused on producing more energy, we should focus on how to optimize our resource consumption and invest as much as we can in developing sustainable and environment-friendly technologies.
It is not just a romantic daydream; it can become a competitive advantage for our society.
How do you see the future of renewables? If you could paint an ideal situation in a few years, what would it be like?
The future of renewables is our future. I can't say how it will look like. It strongly depends on us. I hope that when we think about renewable sources, we mean a sustainable way of life, well-being for the humans but also for the whole planet.
Otherwise, what do we mean by "clean" or "blue" or "green"? If we will turn the word "exploit", that we used for decades for any resources, to something more fair and environmental friendly, then the future of our planet is safe.