Memorandum submitted by Dr Alan Wells
in collaboration with David Langston of Wavegen
1. Wavegen is a private sector company that
has undertaken research, development and commercialisation of
various forms of wave energy over the last 10 years, in close
collaboration with academia.
2. Wavegen owns and operates a 500kW wave
energy converter off the west coast of Scotland and has built
3MW of plant to date.
3. Wavegen is a company dedicated to the
extraction of energy from waves, and will not be commenting on
4. Whilst efficiency, the conversion of
the energy available in the wave front into electrical power,
is a useful measure the key factor to consider is the cost of
the power produced, that is p/kWh. So a relatively inefficient
device with a low capital cost could be a better technical solution
than a very efficient device but with a correspondingly high capital
5. Wavegen has built a Limpet 0.5MW device
on the island of Islay, off the west coast of Scotland. This plant
follows the earlier 75kW pilot plant built by Queen's University
of Belfast. The plant is currently supplying power to the national
grid. The plant has recently moved from manned operation only
to remote control with 24 hours per day operation.
6. Building the Limpet plant and monitoring
its operation has provided valuable data, which will be used to
improve the performance of the next generation of Limpet device.
Redesign proposals already exist for substantial cost reductions
with greater site flexibility.
7. Wave energy will become commercially
viable for the supply of electricity for the grid. The first UK
wind projects (NFFO-1) produced electricity more expensively than
the current Limpet wave plant. Since the early NFFO projects the
cost of power from UK wind farms has dropped by a factor of approximately
six. Provided that the development of wave energy is adequately
supported in the near term then it will follow the same trend.
8. The energy market is full of existing
technology that has received and is still receiving direct or
indirect national subsidies. Wave power has the potential of being
a substantial industry and yet it is not yet receiving sustained
and coherent support necessary to move from research to commercial
demonstration. Wave energy is commercially competitive niche markets,
such as remote islands and oil and gas subsea developments.
PREAMBLE ON WAVE POWER
Development over the past 25 years of wave power
plants has been slow in the UK, and indeed elsewhere, for cogent
reasons. Although the annual offshore potential power output is
substantial, there are also extreme storm conditions to be faced,
with temporary power fluxes sometimes larger than the mean by
an order of magnitude, but without any well defined upper limit.
This introduces design uncertainties.
The potential profitability of wave power is
also limited, as for instance compared with the winning of hydrocarbons
offshore. This may be illustrated by comparing added values from
compression of seawater on the one hand to drive hydroelectric
plant, and on the other hand to be used directly for displacement
by dosed injection at declining hydrocarbon well systems, where
the value of additional hydrocarbon products, even when heavily
discounted by seawater leakage losses, will be at least an order
of magnitude greater. It arises from this, firstly that oil-related
offshore technology is often too expensive to apply to wave power
extraction plants; this has encouraged the trial of unconservative
prototype plants. But secondly, a historical comparison with the
progression of commercial square rigged steel sailing barques
late in the 19th century, compatible with the most adverse storm
conditions, shows that economic solutions could also be found
for wave energy plants. The lessons so far from these experiences
have been mainly (1) that wave power conversion plants should
be minimally attended and (2) that the technology to be employed
should be as simple and rugged as possible, requiring the minimum
maintenance. These lessons will be learned, and wave power will
become one of the significant sources of renewable power, probably
commencing in niche markets. Suitable candidates are (1) oceanic
islands, (2) seabed hydrocarbon wellhead systems, with or without
dosed seawater injection and (3) clean pressurised seawater desalination,
by membrane or vacuum/compression/condensation/distillation (VCCD)
Despite long development lead times, one considerable
advantage of wave power conversion systems in general is that
their construction lead times are short, which can have a favourable
effect on reducing capital costs. Serious attention might also
be given to synergistic applications. Thus, a cable ring main
laid on the seabed to serve pumping installations for a group
of offshore oilfields, initially using electric power from ashore
might towards the end of oilfield life have wave power plants
connected to it, so as to deliver power ashore with storage, particularly
for use with electric vehicles, or gasification and synthesis
of municipal waste with oxygen to form diesel fuels. Now is the
time for serious study of these possibilities.
9. The time required for wave energy to
become a commercially competitive source of power is largely dependent
upon how much positive encouragement its development is given
in the near term. If resources are committed quickly then the
technology will mature more quickly determined only by the availability
of adequate inventive and intellectual talent. Whereas, if the
same amount resource is eked out slowly there is a probability
that the technology will not mature in the UK but become an imported
10. Two of Europe's largest venture capital
funds and its third largest oil company have already invested
in Wavegen. These investors have been attracted by the prospect
of a profitable global industry evolving.
11. The Limpet 500 plant is successfully
operating on the island of Islay. It is a 0.5MW oscillating water
column with a Wells turbine power take-off. The project which
was part financed by the EU secured an SRO-3 (Scottish Renewable
Obligation) contract for the sale of the power.
12. The Limpet 500 follows on from the successful
DTI funded 75kW plant, also on Islay, built by Queen's University,
Belfast in 1990. As part of the DTI contract this plant was decommissioned
in early 1999.
13. The Limpet 500 is currently constrained
to a maximum power output of 150kW due lack of capacity in the
local grid. Shortly after commissioning was complete in November
2000 the plant exported power at maximum capacity. At the end
of January 2001 we moved to remote operation24 hours per
14. The plant has been built to enable data
to be collected for further R&D leading to improved performance
from future devices.
15. The Osprey I near shore 2MW project
of 1995 using reversible pneumatic turbines, was undertaken by
Applied Research & Technology. The welded steel structure
was built in the Clyde, towed 450 miles to Dounreay and successfully
settled on the seabed after receipt of a satisfactory weather
window forecast from the Met Office. A 2m swell from the North
arrived soon after placement and persisted for a week. The work
boat could pump neither ballast sand nor cement grout, nor place
anti scour mats, although the divers did obtain videos underwater.
These showed that the seabed wave motion eroded sand around the
bilges and the unballasted structure buckled and broke its back
on the remaining humps. After the swell had subsided the decision
was taken and implemented to retrieve the turbo generators. The
loss report was accepted without reservation by the insurers,
on the basis of "perils of the sea". They compensated
in full but removal of the wreck required by the Crown Commission,
required the sourcing of a large Dutch jack up crane barge and
this operation cost more than the Osprey prototype. Costs were
also inflated by the discovery of irradiated metal particles on
the structure from seabed contamination. The associated procedures
and diving equipment needed for handling this contamination risk
more than doubled the budget. The project provided valuable lessons
for the development of future marine renewable energy projects.
16. Wave power should be recognised as being
able to make a significant contribution to the renewable target
by 2010. The UK has the technical lead. It also has the skills
and resources from the declining offshore Oil & Gas market.
If this opportunity is not grasped now then others will pick up
the opportunity and in a few years the UK will be importing Wave
Energy Converters from the new market leader. The wave industry
in the UK has the potential to become a major industry worth billions
of pounds. A strong home market is essential in developing this
opportunity. This can only be achieved by it having a high priority
in the Government's renewable energy strategy. This is not the
case at present.
17. The Renewables ObligationPreliminary
Consultation document issued by the DTI at the end of 2000 contained
information regarding a proposal for Capital Grants for Offshore
Wind projects "to stimulate early deployment of a significant
capacity of offshore wind farms". The UK has an excellent
wave climate, it is at the forefront of the development of wave
energy technology and yet Capital Grants are to be made available
for imported wind energy technology. The Renewables Obligation
timetable indicates an end date of 31 March 2026 but without mentioning
the option of future Capital Grants being made available for wave
energy. A more positive statement toward wave energy would have
given the encouragement that the capital markets needs to co invest.
18. With the wind industry the Danish Government
has successfully demonstrated how a strategy of supporting the
development of renewable energy technology at home can result
in a new industry with significant exports. It now employs more
people that the UK's coal mining industry.
19. With world demand in energy increasing
at about 2 per cent per year, oil controlled by a small number
of politically influential countries, nuclear power stations coming
to the end of their lives and short-term local gas supplies, also
with a vast untapped global wave resource and the necessary skills
and resources becoming available from a declining offshore oil
and gas industry, it makes sense for the Government to encourage
wave energy. In addition to achieving substantial domestic renewable
power production it will also create a valuable export market
for manufactured goods.
21. In March 1999, the Government launched
a new wave power programme to monitor the development of the SRO-3
schemes and fund research, development and demonstration projects.
£1 million of R&D funding has been contracted mostly
for collaborative device development projects. The DTI's New and
Renewable Energy Programme budget of £14 million in 2000-01
covers a wide range of activities. The actual amount that is used
to assist in the development to wave power devices is small.
22. Wavegen is receiving funding from the
DTI for the development of a floating attenuator device.
23. It is not clear how national funding
for R&D is being co-ordinated or what sort of peer-review
processes are undertaken.
24. A number of national and international
official studies have confirmed that there is minimal impact from
wave energy devices.
25. Offshore wave energy devices carry almost
no negative environmental impact, apart from the usual construction
and decommissioning impacts for those living near fabrication
sites. They are placed in deep water and can also be sited close
to oil installations where their function would be to assist in
the development of marginal fields or to extract difficult-to-recover
reserves from existing fields. They provide a clear environmental
advantage over current mechanisms for generating electricity offshore.
26. Of all the renewable energy forms, it
appears to us that wave provides the lowest level of negative
environmental impact coupled with the highest level of positive
environmental impact. It is the only form of energy generation
we are aware of which may, in fact, be deployed as much for its
positive environmental effects such as protection against coastal
erosion or provision of potable water as for its ability to generate
27. In developing nearshore or offshore
wave energy projects it is necessary to account for the physical
obstacle that they represent to other sea users, including fishermen,
shipping, navigation, Ministry of Defence (MoD) practice exercises
and anchorage areas. In general, sites that are good for wave
energy are not in high demand by other users.
28. Detailed consultation during the scoping
phase of a wave energy development should rule out locating wave
energy devices in particularly busy marine areas so reducing the
risk of obstructing other sea users. Admiralty charts, traffic
surveys and liaison with key personnel such as harbour masters,
coastguards and the MoD will identify shipping routes and other
29. There is a growing number of countries
that are showing significant interest in wave energy and so Britain
runs the risk of falling behind. In addition, the country that
demonstrates commitment is the country that wins the prize of
a future major industry. The UK is well placed with its wave power
technology and skills and resources from the Offshore Oil &
Gas industry. It is more than likely that one country will dominate
the market. This is the case for Denmark in the wind industry.
If the UK does not capitalise on its present opportunity regarding
wave power then in 10 years' time it could be importing wave energy
devices from a country that was handed a golden opportunity.
30. A number of projects have been undertaken
abroad, for example the IPS Buoy in Sweden, Mighty Whale in Japan,
OWC with Wells Turbine (supplied by Wavegen) in the Azores, an
OWC in Norway. To date these projects have not been resoundingly
successful, but they have added to the body of knowledge. More
and more countries are developing wave energy technology. There
are Australian, US, Dutch and probably other developments that
are nearing finalisation, which could erode the UK's lead. Some
of these are described in the book "Power of the waves"
by David Ross, OUP, 1995, ISBN 0198565119.
10 February 2001