LONDON -- Growing global interest in harvesting the sea's vast generation potential is now focused on the UK, where a series of initiatives such as the new Marine Energy Parks are aimed at maintaining the country's technological lead.
Revealing a second marine energy park, this time in the waters of the Pentland Firth and Orkney in the North of Scotland, the UK has effectively cemented ocean energy technology's place in the world's future energy mix.
The Pentland Firth and Orkney Waters Marine Energy Park (MEP) will incorporate the European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC), which is currently testing nine devices, and provides a dedicated space for companies to test and develop their projects. The Pentland Firth and Orkney Waters MEP includes the largest wave and tidal development zone in the world, with the Crown Estate having already awarded licences worth a combined 1.6 GW to developers there. Energy from waves or tides has the potential to generate an estimated 27 GW in the UK alone by 2050.
Meanwhile, the Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult, announced in February 2012, will focus on developing offshore wind, wave and tidal technologies from a headquarters in Glasgow in Scotland and an operational centre in Northumberland in the northeast of England.
Richard Yemm, commercial director and founder of Pelamis Wave Power, commented, "This builds on the world-leading work in the region, and further cements this area as the proving ground of this industry. This marine energy park creates an even more solid platform for commercialisation of the sector in these waters, while maximising economic benefits for the local community.
Energy and Climate Change Minister Greg Barker said: "Marine power is a growing green clean source of power which has the potential to sustain thousands of jobs in a sector worth a possible £15 billion [US$23 billion] to the economy by 2050."
The development followed a recent amendment to the UK revenue support scheme, in which the government revealed plans for banding of support for various technologies through the Renewables Obligation (RO) for large-scale renewable electricity generators from 2013-2017. Marine hydro will receive 5 ROCs/MWh up to 30 MW.
Gaynor Hartnell, CEO of the Renewable Energy Association (REA), said: "The higher subsidy levels which the REA called for have been confirmed. There is a 30 MW size threshold, above which only 2 ROCs/MWh are available. The REA did not support this somewhat arbitrary distinction, but government felt there was a need to limit the potential amount of capacity which could be supported at 5 ROCs/MWh, and this was the most workable solution."
"Conventional" hydro has been increased from 0.5 to 0.7 ROCs/MWh while offshore wind will be set at 2 ROCs/MWh in 2014-2015, reducing to 1.9 ROCs in 2015-2016 and to 1.8 ROCs 2016-2017.
The Pentland Firth and Orkney Waters MEP is the second in the UK, following the announcement of an Energy Park in the South West of England earlier in 2012.
South West Marine Energy Park will stretch from Bristol through to Cornwall and as far as the Isles of Scilly. The region already hosts many marine and tidal developers and initiatives. In Cornwall, for instance, the Wave Hub was deployed in 2010 to provide a grid-connected offshore facility for testing wave energy technologies. Wave Hub holds a 25-year lease on 8 km2 of seabed about 16 km off the north coast, and offers shared infrastructure for demonstrating arrays of wave energy devices. Four berths can be leased at the 11-ton hub, which is linked to the UK's electricity transmission grid via a 25 km cable and permitted for up to 20 MW. The Wave Hub could also be upgraded to about 50 MW, say its backers.
The creation of the MEPs follows an agreement in late 2011 between Falmouth Harbour Commissioners and The Crown Estate - which owns the UK's seabed - to create a wave energy "nursery" test site in the Falmouth Bay on Cornwall's south coast. The FabTest site has a five-year licence from the Marine Management Organisation for mooring marine energy converter devices. Although not electrically connected, FabTest will enable up to three device developers to investigate structural integrity, response behaviour, mooring and umbilical behaviour, subsea components, monitoring systems and deployment procedures in moderate sea conditions before deploying devices in more energetic offshore conditions.
Dr. Lars Johanning, senior lecturer in renewable energy at the University of Exeter, which will manage the center, describes FabTest as a "stepping stone to Wave Hub" that will help device developers on the critical path to commercialization.
An International Resource
Companies based outside the UK are set to participate in the British drive to dominate in marine energy.
Ocean Energy Limited, an Ireland-based company, is working with Wave Hub to deploy its technology. In collaboration with its partner Dresser-Rand, Ocean Energy expects to have set up a full-scale device by the end of this year. Wave Hub will match fund some of Ocean Energy's deployment costs up to £1 million ($1.6 million). Ocean Energy, whose OE Buoy uses the oscillating water column principle to generate power by forcing air though a turbine, says it will consider fabricating its 1.5 MW device locally. US-based Ocean Power Technologies has also signed a commitment to deploy its PowerBuoy device at Wave Hub.
More recently, in late December 2011, a 1 MW tidal turbine was installed off the Orkneys by Hammerfest Strom AS, a company partly owned by Iberdrola, Andritz Hydro and Statoil New Energy.The device, an HS1000 with a 30-meter rotor diameter, will join one of the world's first tidal power arrays in the Sound of Islay. Machines are due to be installed over 2013-2015 for the 10 MW array, which won planning consent from the Scottish government in March 2011.
ScottishPower Renewables aims to use the turbine not only in its Islay project - Scotland's only consented tidal array - but in even larger-scale projects in the Pentland Firth, which it is currently investigating, said chief executive Keith Anderson.
Meanwhile, Alstom and SSE Renewables signed a joint venture agreement in January 2012 for developing the Costa Head Wave Project of up to 200 MW. The companies aim to populate the site north of mainland Orkney with AWS-III wave energy converters, under development by AWS Ocean Energy Ltd, in which Alstom acquired a 40 per cent equity share in June 2011.
The plans envisage an initial phase of about 10 MW at the site, which is in water with a depth of 60-75 meters about 5 km north of Orkney. The AWS-III converter is a 2.5 MW floating device with an array of flexible membrane absorbers that use wave action to compress air, which is then forced through a turbine. A 1:9 scale model was tested in Loch Ness in 2010. Full-scale component testing will commence in 2012.
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