Wave and Tidal Energy in 2015: Finally Emerging from the Labs

Technologies to harness wave and tidal power have been under development for over 40 years, but up until quite recently the center of technology development has been in Europe, where the resource intensity is greater than the United States’ coasts. However, in an effort to nurture the country’s sector, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Water Power Program has invested in a broad portfolio of technologies and Alison Labonte, DOE Marine and Hydrokinetic Technology Manager, revealed that it has recently increased its focus on “innovative, game changing technologies that utilize the most abundant marine resources and that have the greatest potential for achieving economic viability.”

“The sector has come a long way since the origin of the Program in 2008,” she explained. “Today, there are fully permitted projects which, once installed, will deliver 1365 kW (wave) and 1350 kW (tidal) of electricity to coastal populations,” she added. 

Although growth in 2015 “will be seen in the form of technology advancement for prototypes and early production models that are deployed in demonstration projects,” Labonte said that substantial growth in the form of commercial deployments of technologies in the U.S. “will occur when technology costs become competitive with local cost of energy.” 

Aquamarine Power’s Oyster wave power device in action. Credit: Aquamarine Power.

“The DOE”s investment portfolio recognizes that high-risk research and development activities have the potential to more than double the energy capture efficiency of today’s wave energy technologies, and are needed to tap into the greatest marine energy markets in California, Oregon, and Washington,” she said.

According to new analysis, published recently in the journal Renewable Energy, large-scale wave energy systems developed in the Pacific Northwest should be “comparatively steady, dependable and able to be integrated into the overall energy grid at lower costs than some other forms of alternative energy, including wind power.”

“Ocean wave energy tends to have low short term variability when aggregated over a large area, which results in a calculated integration cost, in terms of impact to reserve generation requirements, that is relatively low, and much lower than wind,” said report co-author Ted Brekken, Associate Professor of Energy Systems at Oregon State University.

E.ON Pelamis P2 in Orkney. Credit: Pelamis Wave Power.

Looking ahead, Labonte said that developers now recognize the greatest market potential for current technologies exists in “remote and other niche applications,” but that opportunities lie in “taking advantage of these markets for demonstrating existing technologies while making fundamental improvements to systems to ready them for larger, utility-scale markets in the longer-term.”

“The DOE is confident that the successful development and deployment of marine energy devices and technologies will continue throughout 2015,” she concluded.

Mixed Picture for UK

For Nick Medic, Director of Offshore Renewables at RenewableUK, 2014 was a notable year for the UK wave and tidal sectors, both “in terms of progress made and setbacks suffered.” On the plus side, the first tidal energy array reached financial close and is under construction, the country’s first tidal lagoon project has gone into planning and has attracted preliminary funding commitments, devices continue to be tested and R&D is “continuing apace, more so than anywhere else in the world.” 

However, Medic also believes that “chronic underfunding” and a lack of firmer messaging on the role marine energy should play have brought matters to a head with “a number of developers both on the wave and tidal side either winding up or exiting the sector.” In November 2014, Pelamis Wave Power announced financial difficulties such that the company has been put into administration and Aquamarine Power cut back to a skeleton staff. 

“This is a worrying situation, yet one that can and should be remedied. Bodies such as Wave Energy Scotland are awake to the danger of gains made in the sector being reversed, but we need a coordinated UK approach to stabilize the sector,”
he added.

Dr Stephanie Merry, Head of Marine at the UK Renewable Energy Association, agreed the outlook for the UK sector is “not encouraging.” That said, when it comes to developing tidal energy technology, the UK is still further ahead than many countries and Merry pointed out that the Marine Current Turbines (MCT) Seagen device, which remains installed at Strangford Lough, where it has delivered more than 9 GWh to the national grid, is “arguably the most successful tidal stream generator to date in the world.”

“In 2015, the tidal energy sector will watch the progress of MeyGen with keen interest. We also hope the second tidal array project, Scottish Power Renewables in the Sound of Islay, will continue to move forward. Welsh company Tidal Energy is also in the process of deploying its DeltaStream machine in Ramsey Sound and the Swedish Minesto device has been tested at Strangford Lough,” said Merry.

“One UK wave energy project to watch is WaveSub, which has been successful in raising funds for development and is well-placed in Wales to access EU funds for the future,” she added.

Promising Markets

Elsewhere, although the January 2015 demise of leading Australian technology developer Oceanlinx was an undeniable setback, Merry revealed that some foreign wave energy developers remain “buoyant.”

The Deltastream that is currently being deployed in the UK. Credit: Deltastream. 

“Internationally, I like the technology of Fred Olsen’s BOLT machine. Being privately funded, it is in a comfortable position financially, as long as it continues to prove its potential,” she added.

Merry believes that France is “poised to take over the global lead” for tidal stream energy, while a number of European maritime countries, as well as Australia, are “moving ahead more successfully than the UK with wave power.”

“Growth of the tidal sector in France will be strong, because the French government has provided excellent support with high levels of capital grant and guaranteed grid access, although the market mechanisms are not as good as in the UK. Leases in the Raz Blanchard, the French side of the Alderney Race, have been let. Growth in Canada is also good with Atlantis securing a feed-in tariff of about £292/MWh for up to 4.5 MW capacity at the Fundy Ocean Research Centre,” she said. 

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Andrew Williams is a freelance journalist based in Cardiff, Wales, UK. His work has been published in a wide range of publications including The Guardian, The Ecologist, Green Futures, 24 Housing, Professional Broking and Strategic Risk. As well as writing for Renewable Energy World, he also writes regular articles on renewable energy for Wind Energy Update and CSP Today.

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