Select Committee on Science and Technology Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by Seapower


  Seapower is a newly formed body, a pre-cursor to a Trade Association, representing the emerging United Kingdom "wet" marine renewable energy sector, which naturally encompasses all wave and non-barrier tidal energy devices and technologies. The organisation has been formed as a result of recommendations made in the report from the Marine Foresight Panel "Energies from the Sea—Towards 2020" (April 1999), and is administered under the auspices of the Institute of Marine Engineers. Seapower believes passionately that wave, current and tidal power generation technologies can, with a fair level of government political and financial support, be a key part of the UK's 21st century energy strategy.

  Because there are few commercially viable wave and tidal power devices, Seapower is not technically a "Trade Association", rather a body representing the interests of an emerging group of researchers, manufacturers, developers, academic institutions and increasingly, mainstream engineering businesses who see medium and long-term business opportunities in this sector. The main aims of Seapower can be summarised as:

    —  To raise the profile of wave and tidal power generation;

    —  To create a unified voice for the UK "wet" marine renewable energy sector to liaise with the Media, Government and Planning Authorities;

    —  To provide a forum for wave and tidal current issues to be debated and resolved;

    —  Together with METN (see below), facilitate appropriate R&D work, foster collaborative working partnerships, and help progress devises through demonstration to commercial application.


  Seapower will collaborate closely with the Marine Energy Technology Network (METN), recently set up under the direction of Professor Mike Cowling of the Glasgow Marine Technology Centre. This is a "virtual" network of users and researchers of energy technology in both the marine renewables and conventional oil and gas sectors. METN will encourage innovation, creativity and the natural synergies, which exist between the emergent marine renewables sector and the developed technologies of the offshore and subsea oil and gas industry.

  METN will therefore provide the technical "back-up" and credibility to Seapower, as both will share the organisation of joint technical conferences and workshops aimed at bridging gaps between the oil and gas and renewable sectors.


  Seapower, as a very newly formed organisation, is delighted to be able to respond to this committee. Now is the time to combine the UK's prolific marine and offshore oil and gas engineering talents with the UK's rich wave and tidal current resources to provide a long-term sustainable energy source, which does not contribute to climate change. It can, with political will, be achieved—but the Government needs to take action NOW!

1.  Technological viability

  Technology is available for efficient generation of power from waves and tides, although not yet mature in the UK. There is one wave energy device (Wavegen Limpet) supplying power to the national grid, and several others that are moving towards commercial development in the next three to five years. In addition to UK developments, there are other non-UK companies in Ireland developing wave and tidal technologies, some of which are moving ahead quite rapidly. A 2 MW device is due to be installed offshore Portugal in late 2001.

  Despite a hostile operating environment, the evidence of functioning technology and the growing involvement of commercial interests gives proof that technology required for wave and non-barrier tidal energy extraction is available, if at an "early stage", compared with say, wind turbine technology.

  The report from the Marine Foresight Panel showed that the UK has, in the last twenty years, been at the forefront of developing new technologies and solutions to huge and difficult challenges in the offshore oil and gas industries, particularly the subsea sector. Subsea power cable and connectors, floating mooring systems and subsea pumps and motors have all been developed by British companies to have long-life and low operating costs in the subsea or splash-zone environments. A growing body of opinion is now seeing the clear synergy between these technologies, and the emerging marine renewable energy technologies. Indeed, forward-thinking companies in the offshore sector are actively looking at new market areas as their own industry starts to decline.

  A recent study commissioned by the DTI and carried out by Ove Arup concluded:

    "No major technical barriers to the development of wave energy prototypes have been identified. All the issues raised under design, construction, deployment and operation can be addressed by transfer of technology from other industries, especially the offshore industry".

2.  Commercial viability

  Wave and non-barrier tidal energy will become commercially viable for the supply of electricity to the national grid. Every new technology, whether wind power, subsea control systems or mobile telephones, has initially been costly. Early one-off devices are necessarily over-engineered so critical components can be properly assessed. Costs rapidly fall when larger scale manufacturing starts, and technology risks have been overcome. The United Kingdom has the opportunity to be the world-leader in marine renewable energy, but appropriate government fiscal and financial support is required.

  The technologies are still undergoing development. No single method has yet been determined to maximise energy capture from the sea. We are still at the "creative" phase, yet even so, the cost of power from current wave and tidal energy devices is between 4 and 8 p/kWh, currently competitive for niche markets such as remote islands, competing against conventional diesel generated electricity supply. At this price wave energy is currently competitive with other renewable energy technologies such as biomass which have, unlike wave and tidal energy, received Government support throughout the 1980s and 1990s,

  The current Wavegen Limpet installed at Islay is producing electricity at less cost than the first (NFFO-1) UK wind projects. Redesign proposals by Wavegen already show substantial cost reductions from this initial device.

  Wave energy does not yet compete with fossil fuel generation, but then neither did the wind industry at this stage in its development. In the last 20 years the cost of onshore wind energy has fallen by a factor of five—a result of the economies of scale and maturation of a rapidly growing technology, encouraged financially and fiscally by far-thinking Danish and German governments. Denmark and Germany now dominate the wind-turbine industry exporting their technologies world-wide, and providing tens of thousands of jobs to their economies.


  The main projects currently running in the UK include:

CompanyDevice Timing
WavegenLimpet 500Commissioned 11/2000
Limpet is a 500 kW shoreline wave energy converter, built into a cliff which uses an oscillating water column with a Wells turbine power take-off. The Limpet was installed last year on Islay, West Coast of Scotland, and is currently generating electricity for the UK national grid. The project was part financed by EU & SRO-3 power purchase contract.

Ocean Power Delivery
Pelamis1/7 scale prototype to be deployed 2001.

Full-scale demonstration model in 2002
The Pelamis is a semi-submerged, articulated structure composed of cylindrical sections linked by hinged joints. The wave-induced motion of these joints generates hydraulic power which drives electric generators. The device is designed to use only currently available technology, and is designed with survivability as its primary objective. The project was awarded SRO-3 power purchase contract, and OPD are currently designing a 1/7 scale prototype which will lead to a full-scale demonstration unit becoming available for test and development in 2002.

Marine Current Turbines
  300 kW marine current turbine will be installed 2002. 600 kW "Twin rotor" device to be installed 2003
Marine Current Turbines Ltd (was IT Power) has many years experience in testing and developing tidal current devices. The company has a development programme funded by the EC (1 million Euro), matching industry funding, and is awaiting the outcome of a DTI grant in order to go ahead with the world's first commercial-scale tidal turbine project.

  We believe that all the above companies have made individual submissions to the Committee, and these of course show more details of their own technologies and timescales.

  In addition, there are a number of academic device teams, and several projects which are at an earlier stage of development.


  Seapower believes that wave and tidal energy should have a much higher priority in the Government's renewable energy strategy. This is because:

    —  the UK has one of the highest potentials for wave and tidal energy extraction in the world;

    —  the UK already has technologies (see above) in the demonstration, development and R&D stage which show real promise for economically viable energy production;

    —  the country has appropriate engineering talents and manufacturing capabilities from its mature marine and offshore oil and gas industries;

    —  there is the real chance of becoming the leading world player, with the ensuing huge job prospects and economic benefits to the economy;

    —  the UK has committed to an aggressive CO2 emissions reduction programme, which requires the rapid take-up of all possible renewable energy technologies.

  At present wave energy is viewed by the DTI as a "Longer Term (after 2010)" technology, which has "potential if pursued through R&D". Seapower does not agree with this assessment. It seems certain that the technical successes required to trigger large industrial investment will occur over the next two years. The UK must intensify its research, development and demonstration programme. This means the budget available in the DTI wave programme and capital grant assistance (through the new Renewables Obligation programme) should be significantly increased.

  Government support is critical to achieve the potential of becoming world-leader in these technologies. The "wind model" shows that the support given by the Danish Government to their wind power manufacturers and developers over the last 15 years has developed an industry from nothing to one which employs more people than the UK's coal mining industry. In addition, it provides the country with over ten per cent of its electricity needs from a 100 per cent renewable resource. In some respects Scotland has taken the lead by setting up a Scottish Commission for Wave Energy, who we also understand have made a submission to the Committee.

  The Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, made up of eminent UK scientists, in its recently published report "Energy—the Changing Climate" states that; "there is a strong need for direct government support for research and development on some of the least-developed technologies which offer great potential but are some way from being competitive, such as wave power and tidal stream turbines .


  Basic research for academic projects is being funded at a moderate scale through the EPSRC Renewable and New Energy Technologies (RNET) programme. Funding is also available within the EU 5th Framework programme for collaborative R&D projects. The DTI's New and Renewable Energy Programme budget is modest at present, however the key manufacturers/developers have now moved to the stage of requiring funds primarily for technology demonstration and development.

  Seapower is unable at present to comment on whether national funding for R&D is being well co-ordinated or what sort of peer-review processes are undertaken. However, one member company reports of a conversation with a senior person at the Government Office (responsible for DTI Smart grants in one region of the UK) declaring, on turning down a Smart grant application, "The sea is a terrible place to do anything except float on it!" This attitudes needs to change.


  Seapower believes that of all the renewable energy forms, wave and non-barrier tidal energy provides the lowest level of environmental impact, such that organisations such as Greenpeace have actively campaigned in support of these technologies.

  In developing near shore 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 and tidal stream energy are not in high demand by other users. Detailed consultation during the scooping phase of any development should rule out locating wave or tidal energy devices or "farms" in marine areas.


  There are a growing number of countries that are showing significant interest in wave and tidal stream energy and so the UK runs the risk of falling behind. In addition the country that demonstrates commitment at this stage is most likely to be the country that wins the prize of a future major industry.

  As mentioned previously the UK is particularly well placed with its wave power technology and skills and resources from the offshore oil and gas industry. If the UK does not capitalise on its present opportunity regarding wave power then in ten years time it could be importing wave energy devices from a country that was handed a golden opportunity.

  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 other probable developments that are nearing finalisation, which could erode the UK's lead. Some of there are described in the book "Power of the waves" by David Ross, OUP, 1995, ISBN 0198565119.


    —  The Government, DTI, media and the public need to be educated that wave and tidal energy are serious renewable energy technologies which need resourcing NOW, not in ten years time;

    —  The DTI wave programme funding needs to be significantly increased;

    —  Successfully demonstrated technologies should be provided with immediate capital grant assistance within the new Renewables Obligation (RO) to allow further systems to be installed;

    —  Assistance should be given to the setting up of a UK marine renewable energy test site in the near future to allow promising demonstration projects to be installed and tested;

    —  Capital grant assistance must be provided within the RO (on the same scale as proposed for offshore wind) until costs become competitive with mainstream renewable resources. It is anticipated that this will be achieved within the next five years.

11 February 2001

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