Rising Tide for Ocean Energy: UK Aims to Ride the Wave

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.


SSE Renewables received exclusive development rights to the Costa Head site from the Crown Estate in 2010 and with partners is currently developing half of the 1.6 GW of wave and tidal sites leased by the Crown Estate as part of a commercial leasing program for marine energy projects.

Alstom is not the only power giant now venturing into marine energy. In February, Siemens acquired a majority stake in Marine Current Turbines Ltd (MCT), a UK-based company that develops tidal stream turbines. The German engineering firm had increased its stake in the company to 45% in November 2011, having acquired a first stake in February 2010. In November 2008, MCT implemented a commercial-scale demonstration project with its 1.2 MW twin rotor SeaGen device in Strangford Lough in Northern Ireland.

Other projects at the planning stage include Kyle Rhea (8 MW) off Scotland’s Isle of Skye and Anglesey Skerries (10 MW) in Wales, under development with project partner RWE npower renewables. As many as nine turbines will be installed between the Skerries group of rocks and islands and Carmel Head about 2 km off the Anglesey coast. Subject to planning and financing, MCT and RWE npower renewables aim to start commissioning in 2014-2015.

MCT is also working with Minas Basin Pulp & Power to deploy a SeaGen tidal system into the FORCE facility in Canada’s Bay of Fundy. In addition, MCT has an approval for a lease from the Crown Estate to deploy a 100 MW tidal farm off Brough Ness, on the southernmost tip of the Orkney Islands.

Many other engineering players are seeking access to EMEC’s testing facilities. Dutch offshore energy company Bluewater Energy Services is to take up a berth at the Fall of Warness test site for demonstrating a full-scale BlueTEC floating tidal energy converter based on vertical axis turbine technology. Japan’s Kawasaki Heavy Industries Ltd has an eye on full-scale testing at EMEC for an ocean tidal generation system it is developing with Okinawa Electric Power Co. and Okinawa New Energy Development Co. for a demonstration project off Japan’s coast at Okinawa.

In February 2012, a report by the UK’s Energy and Climate Change Select Committee concluded that the UK could become a leading exporter of wave and tidal power equipment and expertise, but only if the government adopts a more visionary approach. The report found that wave and tidal stream energy could supply 20% of the UK’s current electricity demand, although the committee acknowledged that these technologies have high costs and are unlikely to make much, if any, contribution before 2020.

While marine renewables could offer the UK significant longer-term benefits, interest in the field is growing around the world and rival markets are beginning to emerge in nations such as Canada, the U.S., Korea and New Zealand.

Utility engagement

The opportunities for large-scale generation are indicated by a September 2011 deal between New Jersey-based OPT, a leaseholder of one of the Wave Hub bays, and Lockheed Martin. The two say they intend to collaborate on utility-scale PowerBuoy deployments for a wave power project at Reedsport in Oregon.

A PB150 PowerBuoy is intended to be the first of a 10-buoy wave power station with a peak generating capacity of 1.5 MW. OPT says it is involved in other planned projects in North America, Australia, Japan and Europe that would use the PB150, and the company has two PowerBuoys operating in separate oceans – a grid-connected 40 kW PowerBuoy in Hawaii and the one in Scotland.

Another utility power project currently under development comes from Irish technology firm OpenHydro, which in August 2011 deployed its first 500 kW tidal turbine in Brittany, France, in conjunction with French utility Electricite de France (EDF), following assembly of the machine at DCNS’s shipyard in Brest. With a three-month testing period completed late last year, the first two 16-meter-diameter tidal turbines are due for installation off the coast of Paimpol-Brehat this summer and the last two by the end of 2013.

Also in January 2011, Irish energy group Bord Gais Energy committed up to €2 million to OpenHydro as part of its plans for Ireland’s first tidal energy farm. The company now has a project portfolio spanning the U.S., Canada, France, Scotland and the UK’s Channel Islands with utility partners including EDF, NovaScotia Power and SSE Renewables. In 2010, OpenHydro, in conjunction with SSE Renewables, was awarded licence rights by The Crown Estate to develop a major 200 MW tidal farm in the Pentland Firth, off the northern coast of Scotland.

E.ON provides a further example of utility engagement with the Pelamis project, which has been grid connected at EMEC for a year and more. A 750 kW E.ON machine was installed in October 2010 and Pelamis has since implemented a progressive testing program in increasingly energetic sea conditions. In November 2011, this machine was joined by a second 750 kW P2 delivered to EMEC under a supply contract with ScottishPower Renewables.

In May 2011 Aegir Wave Power, a joint venture between Swedish utility Vattenfall AB and Pelamis, secured a similar Crown Estate lease for a 10 MW project off the southwest of Shetland. According to a spokesperson, Pelamis is working with utility Energias de Portugal with a view to executing long-term ambitions to re-enter a site of the coast of Portugal, site of early testing of three P1 devices that were decommissioned in 2008.

Outlook for marine tidal

Siemens estimates worldwide potential power from tidal plants at about 800 TWh annually, or some 3-4 per cent of current global consumption. Meanwhile, the ocean power market is showing growth rates that Siemens says it expects to run in two digits through to 2020.

Amanda Pound, marine renewable services manager for A&P Falmouth, considers that the UK’s nexus of natural resources, government engagement and industry makes it a unique proposition. But it risks its global lead unless it continues to develop.

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