Marine Energy UK

Blessed with one of the longest coastlines of any country in Europe, large tidal ranges and strong winds, it is perhaps obvious that as the home of one of the largest marine energy resources, the United Kingdom should also sport by far the largest concentration of marine power companies in the world.

MCTThe UK remains at the cutting edge of wave and tidal energy development, with a steady acceleration in activity as commercial devices go into the water – and many more stand close behind in the advanced stages of testing. Some analysis suggests that the accessible resource in waters around the UK, taking into account constraints on available sites, could be as much as 700 TWh per year.

The government has largely been supportive over recent years, investing in research and development and providing grants to aid commercialization. There is also a strong link with academia in the various marine energy hot-spots, crucial in testing and developing the accurate modelling necessary to optimize new technologies.

While this has so-far proved successful in spawning a significant number of encouraging developments, there remains concern that the support measures being put in place will be insufficient to develop a world-class industry. Delays in securing commercial permitting, limited financial support and the on-going wrangle over transmission access, continue to dog marine development.

Policy support

Government support for marine energy has been relatively high compared with other sectors.

In one of the more significant developments for the industry over the past year, a study to determine the potential for marine energy in English and Welsh waters was announced by the government in April 2009. The new scoping study will look at wave, tidal stream and tidal range technologies along the English and Welsh coastlines and their potential environmental impacts. Designed to give a better understanding of the potential energy available and the realistic timescale of when multiple devices could be installed and commissioned, the scoping study will also build on data gathered for the Offshore Energy Strategic Environment Assessment (SEA) – which focused largely on wind and fossil resources – and the Welsh Marine Energy Strategic Plan.

AEA and Hartley Anderson Ltd are to conduct the six-month screening exercise on behalf of the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC). Producing this study is a vital step in delivering an accelerated planning process, opening the door to large-scale marine energy development.

The devolved Scottish government is further along, having already produced a preliminary SEA for marine energy in Scotland. In September 2008, the Crown Estate also outlined the application and consent procedure for wave and tidal energy projects in the Pentland Firth, in Scotland – the first UK marine power site to be opened up for commercial-scale development – with the aim of developing an installed capacity of more than 700 MW by 2020. The process of granting options for leases is due to be concluded in the summer of 2009, with initial devices being deployed as early as 2010 or 2011.

The Pentland Firth contains some of the best locations for wave energy in the UK and EMEC is in the same area. Meanwhile, Northern Ireland has appointed consultants to undertake a similar SEA in its territorial waters.

Announcing the decision for England and Wales, the minister for sustainable development and energy innovation, Lord Hunt, said: ‘The marine energy sector has reached a pivotal stage with more and more devices ready to go into the water. The screening exercise in English and Welsh waters is a significant step forward in our plans to harness the power of our seas and secure a renewable and low carbon energy supply.’

The scoping study announced by Lord Hunt excludes the Severn Estuary, the site of proposed tidal barrage schemes which have a potential generating capacity estimated at more than 8 GW, some 5% of UK requirements.

Subject to a separate and on-going two-year feasibility study led by consulting firm Parsons Brinckerhoff, a £500,000 (€577,000) fund has been launched by the government to help environmental entrepreneurs and small businesses develop their ideas to generate electricity from the Severn’s 14 metre tidal range. So far, the public consultation has arrived at a proposed shortlist of five schemes from 10 original proposals, which includes a mixture of barrages and lagoon schemes.

Lord Hunt also noted that in 2009, the first companies are expected to qualify to receive funding under the Marine Renewables Deployment Fund (MRDF), which provides £50 million (€58 million) to support wave and tidal stream technologies. The MRDF provides a package of measures central to which is a £42 million (€48 million) Wave and Tidal Stream Energy Demonstration Scheme and a further £6 million (€7 million) to support infrastructure projects, with a £4.5 million (€5.2 million) grant already offered to Wave Hub.

However, the support is only available to companies which have been operating a full-scale prototype for at least three months – a measure which has been criticized given that devices have only recently entered the water. Parliamentary questions found that the entire budget for the Wave and Tidal-stream Energy Demonstration Scheme has remained unspent since it was announced in 2004. Nonetheless, it does set a premium of £100/MWh (€115/MWh) for electricity produced from marine energy, and this is on top of the retail price of electricity and the Renewables Obligation Certificates (ROCs). The main support scheme for renewable electricity projects in the UK, this is to be revised upwards for marine energy when the government introduces banding for emerging technologies which require more support – such as marine and offshore wind.

In a move which was first mooted in a May 2007 government White Paper, marine energy systems are due to receive two ROCs for each MWh of electricity they generate, double the current level. However, Lord Hunt said that the government had not ‘closed the door’ on a further upward revision for marine technologies.

Eligibility for this tradable certificate is available for up to seven years from the commissioning of the project. In addition to the premium paid on electricity generated, the projects are also eligible for a capital grant of up to 25% of the total installation costs. The revised ROC regime is anticipated to be in place by April 2010.

In December 2008, the government published a new Marine and Coastal Access Bill, designed to give greater confidence and economic benefits for marine developers through simplification of the legislative framework. Through the legislation, the government intends to set up a new Marine Management Organisation (MMO) to oversee the majority of marine planning applications; the bill will also create a strategic marine planning system.

Green Ocean EnergyMaria McCaffery, chief executive of the BWEA, observed: ‘The Marine and Coastal Access Bill is a pioneering piece of legislation, but we must ensure that it allows for the expansion of marine renewable energy, including offshore wind, wave and tidal.’ The bill is due before the Commons sometime in June 2009.

More recently, in its April 2009 Budget, the government again reflected the importance of renewable energy, announcing £405 million (€468 million) to support the development of the low-carbon energy and advanced green manufacturing sector in the UK. The funding will support the development of marine energy and other technologies – for example through building facilities to test prototype models. Funding will come through existing programmes such as the Environmental Transformation Fund and as part of the Strategic Investment Fund, which has £250 million (€289 million) earmarked for investment in mainly offshore developments.

‘This funding should allow the UK to develop expertise in particular low-carbon sectors, such as offshore wind and marine power, in which it has an advantage through strength of natural resources, combined with technology, engineering and finance skills,’ the Budget statement says.

Alan Moore, chair of the government’s Renewables Advisory Board and former chair of BWEA’s Marine Strategy Group, said: ‘The £405 million for low-carbon technologies development and deployment, is a very promising and much needed Budget decision. The wave and tidal industry has been fighting for support over the past years, and only through determined efforts, has made steady progress and established the UK as the world leader in this field.’

Ocean energy generators

Though still at an early stage of development, the marine energy sector has already seen a number of technologies progressed to the point of commercial installation. The rapid emergence of new machines, continuous development of more established ones, and the wealth of on-going R&D, leaves no real consensus over which designs will ultimately emerge to produce electricity from the ocean most efficiently and cheaply, and yet which are sufficiently robust to survive the rigours of a life at sea.

Indeed, a large number of competing, sometimes unexpected, designs for producing wave and tidal power continue to emerge. Of course, these designs all stand at various stages of development, but the growing interest in this sector was clearly signalled by the BWEA’s April 2009 event, which, with 500 delegates, claimed to be the world’s largest conference and exhibition focused on wave and tidal technologies. And, there is a great deal to be interested in.

Oscillating water column (OWC) is one technology that is being explored by a number of UK-based companies. For instance, Orecon, located in Bodmin, Cornwall, is a spin-out business from the University of Plymouth and in 2008 secured £15 million (€17 million) of private investment for the development of its wave-to-energy buoy – based on a multiple chamber oscillating water column and a HydroAir bi-directional air impulse turbine, supplied by Dresser-Rand Company Ltd.

Orecon and Dresser-Rand have also signed a memorandum of understanding to optimize the design for their multi-resonant chamber (MRC) device.

Another OWC design, Wavegen, was granted consent for the 4 MW Siadar wave energy project on the Scottish island of Lewis in January 2009. npower renewables will be the operator of the planned facility with Voith Siemens Hydro Power Generation, the technology partner, providing the machines. A new breakwater is to be built housing the turbines. Voith Hydro and npower parent RWE Innogy have since announced a new spin-out venture to be called Voith Hydro Ocean Current Technologies.

One of the most commercially advanced offshore wave power devices is Pelamis, a 750 kW snake-like machine developed by Edinburgh-based Pelamis Wave Power (PWP). Following a period of testing at EMEC, the world’s first commercial wave energy installation, a 2.25 MW development in Portuguese waters has been developed with energy company Enersis. The three machines, near Póvoa do Varzim some 3 miles (5 km) offshore, are known as the Aguçadoura wave farm. The first electricity from a commercial grid-connected Pelamis machine at the site was delivered in July 2008 from the Number 2 device at the site. The Aguçadoura wave energy project is supported by a specific feed-in tariff of approximately £0.20/kWh (€0.23/kWh). However, while this project faces some financial uncertainty following the collapse of majority owners Australian investment group Babcock and Brown, PWP is continuing in its development of a second generation machine, the so-called P2.

May 2009 saw the first major structural component of the new design leave the fabrication hall, following the February announcement that E.ON, will buy, install and test it at EMEC, and it is expected to be fully operational in 2010. The new device is 180 metres-long – around 50 metres longer than the P1 – and is designed to be considerably more efficient than the first generation.

OreconOcean Power Technologies (OPT), listed on the London Alternative Investment Market, has developed the PowerBuoy. It is due to install the 150 kW device at EMEC, while in the longer term it intends to develop a 5 MW wave farm, consisting of buoys arranged in a grid, planned as part of the Wave Hub project. The buoy, which uses waves to move the mechanism up and down and convert the resultant mechanical stroking via a power take-off to drive an electrical generator, is expected to be ready for deployment and grid connection in 2009. A 10 MW OPT array would occupy approximately 0.05 square miles (0.125 km2) of ocean space, the company says.

The design is similar to that of Wavebob Ltd of Ireland, which has signed a co-operation agreement with Vattenfall AB for the possible development of a 250 MW demonstration project using its Wavebob device. This has been followed up with the joint acquisition of Irish ocean energy site development company, Pandion Ltd.

Another linear device is Trident Energy’s machine. This device is solidly anchored, rather than self-reacting using inertial forces like OPT and Wavebob, and floats are used to drive linear generators. Trident Energy is currently in the final stages of preparing for a year-long deployment of a fully functional test rig in the North Sea, off England’s east coast. The test rig will generate about 20 kW from eight full-scale generators. Operational data will be validated by NaREC.

Isle of Man-based Renewable Energy Holdings plc (REH), meanwhile, has signed up with EDF Energies Nouvelles in a partnership agreement covering the development and deployment of its CETO wave energy technology, which uses a submerged piston to deliver high pressure water on shore, which is then used in conventional hydro technology such a Pelton turbine. Test deployment of a full-scale CETO III unit is due for completion in 2009, with the full commercial roll out anticipated shortly thereafter.

Aquamarine Power was the only UK marine energy company developing both wave and tidal power devices simultaneously, although in April 2009 the company announced that it was to abandon development of its Neptune tidal stream device in order to concentrate on its Oyster wave machine.

Aquamarine already has contracts in place with Fugro Seacore to commence its installation at EMEC in summer 2009; and with Airtricity, the renewable energy division of Scottish and Southern Energy, a deal is in place to develop sites capable of hosting 1 GW of marine energy by 2020. This phase of the development follows the recent completion of testing at NaREC in which the Oyster – hooked up to a hydraulic ram on loan from Pelamis – exported power to the grid.

The device consists of an oscillating flap, which, as with the CETO design, pumps high pressure water through an onshore (in this case a Pelton) turbine to generate electricity. A single pumping cylinder delivered over 170 kW, while a full-scale device, with two cylinders, will have a design output of more than 350 kW.

Meanwhile, grid-connection analysis consultancy firm TNEI has announced that it is to be working with Aquamarine Power to identify the most viable UK sites for deployment of Oyster.

Other wave devices, such as Green Ocean Energy Ltd’s Wave Treader, which attaches to offshore wind farm monopiles and shares infrastructure, or the rubbery submarine-like tube that is the Anaconda from Checkmate Seaenergy Ltd, are at far earlier stages of development. Nonetheless, they represent the explosion of creativity associated with marine energy and interesting avenues for the development of commercial wave energy.

Tidal current energy

As with wave energy, there are a variety of competing devices which generate electricity from tidal currents. These can broadly be divided into those that operate in shallow shoreline water and those that work in deep fast-moving tidal channels. Most of the devices approaching commercialization are in this second category.

One of the most commercially advanced of the tidal companies is Bristol-based Marine Current Turbines (MCT). The company has installed its new SeaGen device, a two-rotor machine capable of generating 1.2 MW, in Strangford Narrows, Northern Ireland. In July 2008, having briefly exported power to the grid, it became one of the world’s first commercial-scale tidal turbines in operation.

MCT intends to manufacture and deploy a series of SeaGen devices in projects off Anglesey and on the Canadian seaboard within the next few years, and has already secured backing of npower Renewables to execute plans for a 10.5 MW tidal farm scheme in an area of 25 metre-deep open sea known as the Skerries, off the north-west coast of Anglesey. Subject to successful planning consent and financing, the tidal farm could begin commercial operations as early as 2011 or 2012. It has also agreed a partnership with Canada’s Minas Basin Pulp and Power Company Ltd for a demonstration project in the Bay of Fundy, Nova Scotia.

The company followed this up by applying for a lease from the Crown Estate to deploy up to 50 MW of its machines in the Pentland Firth. Subject to financing and regulatory approvals, the company says it expects to install up to 50 MW by 2015.

In another tidal turbine development, utility group Scottish Power has teamed up with Hammerfast Strøm of Norway to install a 1 MW full-scale prototype tidal turbine in Scotland, with a view to eventually developing tidal farms of 100 MW or more. Manufacture of the prototype began in 2008, with installation expected during 2009. Using the device, Scottish Power also plans to install three tidal energy farms off Scotland and Northern Ireland with a total capacity of up to 60 MW – which could be operational by 2011, the company says. The facility will use the Lànstrøm tidal turbine developed by Hammerfest Strøm AS.

Meanwhile, Irish company Open Hydro installed its device at EMEC in September 2008 and more recently, in April 2009, the company awarded a contract to Cherubini Metal Works of Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, for the supply of a subsea base to support the installation of its first tidal turbine in Canadian waters. The unit is scheduled for deployment this autumn in the Minas Passage of the Bay of Fundy, on the North American Atlantic coast.

The same month the company also announced that it has secured a contract to develop a pilot project for Snohomish County Public Utility District, a public utility in Washington State, USA. The contract is to develop a tidal energy project in the Admiralty Inlet region of the Puget Sound and involves the installation of up to three turbines. Installation is expected to begin as early as 2011.

In addition, as with the wave energy sector, numerous other devices and designs are under development. Indeed, it is not just equipment manufacturers that collectively make the UK marine energy sector, many other UK companies also figure largely in the development, and include installation companies such as: jack-up barge company Fugro Seacore, offshore installation specialists Mojo Maritime, consultancies and research groups such as Garrad Hassan, Parsons Brinkerhoff, QinetiQ, Black & Veatch, WSAtkins and Halcrow, and many others besides.

Indeed, the potential benefits of marine technologies within a diversified renewables mix have been set out in a recent report for the BWEA by Redpoint Energy Limited. The study suggests that marine technologies can complement wind, increasing the cost effectiveness of variable renewables, and ultimately expanding the potential share for renewables in the overall generation mix.

With its collective wealth of experience, facilities, research and commercial development, the UK’s marine and tidal sector is certainly leading the field. However, it remains to be seen whether this early lead can be consolidated into a world-beating industry. Nonetheless, given the current state of development it is obvious that the UK fully intends to prove that it does indeed have dominion over the waves and tides of the sea.

UK Testing Facilities

OysterAs part of its support measures for marine energy, the UK government has part-funded various key infrastructure projects – such as the European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC) on the island of Orkney off the north coast of Scotland, and the New and Renewable Energy Centre (NaREC) in the northeast of England, which was originally funded by One North-East, the Regional Development Agency (RDA), but is now privately supported, as well as the QuinetiQ testing facilities. These centres have proved invaluable in providing a test bed for prototype marine devices.

In another key development, the so-called Wave Hub – an electrical offshore ‘socket’ that will allow arrays of wave energy devices to feed energy to the national grid – continues to move forward. After some delay it is now expected in the water in 2010, with the first device expected to be deployed in 2011.

The £28 million (€32 million) project off the coast of Hayle on the Cornish coast, south west England, has also received funding from the local RDA, one of a number of branches of local government involved in promoting renewable energy in their regions. Designed by Halcrow, it will include an onshore substation connected to electrical equipment on the seabed about 10 miles (16 km) offshore, and will allow four devices of up to 10 MW each to connect to the grid.

Three wave device developers have committed to Wave Hub so far: Fred Olsen Ltd, Ocean Power Technologies Ltd (OPT) and, announced in the spring of 2009, Orecon Ltd. The latter company is to take the place of Australian company Oceanlinx.

One of the other developers looking at using the offshore transmission hub, energy company E.ON and partner Ocean Prospect Ltd, has also withdrawn from the Wave Hub project.

Following E.ON’s purchase of a next generation Pelamis device – which is to be tested at EMEC – the companies decided to withdraw, vacating their berth to allow another developer the opportunity for testing. Originally they had intended to connect up to five Pelamis machines to the hub.

Dave Rogers, regional director of Renewables for E.ON, said: ‘Our aim is to concentrate on testing our Pelamis device, which means that it was unlikely we’d be in a position to connect to Wave Hub in the short term.’ He added: ‘We still believe Wave Hub is an excellent project – and we may well return to it in the future – but our initial goal is to get a machine into the water as quickly as possible, which we’ll be able to do in Orkney.’

Up to 30 wave energy technologies are expected to be deployed at Wave Hub when it becomes operational, and according to the developers, the installation could create 1800 jobs and inject £560 million (€647 million) in the UK economy over 25 years. Financial closure on the project is expected as the UK Renewables Guide goes to press.

Although work on these regional marine technology centres has been underway for some time now, the impact of such developments has been increased thanks to their complementary nature, with centres like NaREC providing a testing environment for full-scale prototypes, while EMEC – which has now developed a tidal stream test bed along with its wave operations – provides ‘real-world’ grid-connected test conditions for full-scale units.

Indeed, spring 2009 saw the tidal site at the Fall of Warness busy with the installation of the Generation Ltd device and the continued testing of an OpenHydro machine. Once on-line Wave Hub, meanwhile, will offer the opportunity for pre-commercial testing of arrays of devices in a real environment, supplying energy to the national grid.

Hydroelectric Generation

With around 1500 MW of hydro generation currently installed in the UK, which collectively generates some 5 TWh annually, in fact it is only in the last couple of years that wind has overtaken hydro as the single largest source of renewable energy in the UK in terms of installed capacity.

And, even while it remains true that much of the country’s easily developed large-scale hydro-potential has long-since been tapped, recent years have seen a steady growth in the number of small-scale and micro-hydro projects being developed. As technology has advanced and political awareness has raised the profile and level of support for low-carbon generation, many more developers are realizing that converting old mills or installing small run-of-river schemes makes both economic and environmental sense.

Indeed, the largest project to have been commissioned over the last year is the 100 MW Glendoe project near Loch Ness, developed by Scottish and Southern Energy (SSE).

Glendoe was built at a cost of some £150 million ($225 million) and aside from the utility, UK companies involved in the development include Halcrow and the Weir Group.

Most other UK schemes of late have been considerably smaller. For example, December 2008 saw npower renewables get the go-ahead for the 3.54 MW Black Rock Hydro Scheme in Evanton, Ross-shire in Scotland. The run of river project is the company’ largest and is located on the lower catchment of the River Glass. It is due to begin operations in 2010 or 2011. Meanwhile, 2008 saw ScottishPower reveal a two-year £20 million hydro investment programme to upgrade equipment at its three hydro plants in Scotland. The three schemes at Cruachan, Galloway and Lanark have a combined output of 562 MW and the cash will be used to carry out a range of civil works at each of the sites and upgrade equipment.

While development options may be limited, a number of manufactuers remain based in the UK. Among them is Kendal-based Gilbert Gilkes & Gordon, the world’s oldest manufacturer of turbines, and founded in 1853. Northern Ireland-based NHT is another small hydro manufacturer which supplies Francis, Pelton and Kaplan machines among others. In addition, there are a host of other manufacturers of micro-turbines with capacities of less than 100 kW, including Valley Hydro, and Derwent.

The UK is also a world leader in technical consultancy and companies such as IT Power, Dulas and Halcrow have been involved in dozens of projects across the world.


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