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


Memorandum submitted by the Renewable Power Committee, Power Industries Division, Institution of Mechanical Engineers


  1.1  The Renewable Power Committee, part of the Power Industries Division of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, comprises chief executives, managers, sales managers, engineers and technical consultants from a range of organisations as shown in the following Table.

Members of the Renewable Energy Committee

Engineered Solutions

GE Power Systems (Europe)

General Electric International Inc

AEA Technology

School of the Built Environment

Commonwealth Development Corporation

First Renewables Ltd

Halcrow Gilbert


  2.1  The potential environmental impacts of energy production from fossil fuels have increased the interest in renewable energy technologies worldwide. This has led to spectacular growth in the deployment of some technologies (eg onshore wind). Electricity derived from waves and tidal streams could compliment these more developed renewable energy sources.

  2.2  Wave energy represents a potentially significant resource if the technology can be developed to convert the naturally occurring energy in the seas surrounding the UK into reliable and economic useable power. The main UK Government sponsored research took place between 1974 and 1984 but this was curtailed because the technologies at that time were uneconomic. Since the mid 1990s, interest in wave energy has been growing, mainly thanks to the efforts of small engineering companies worldwide. The UK government has responded to this by reopening its wave energy programme. Non-UK commercial wave energy schemes (up to two MW) are currently being installed in several countries and conventional energy producers are now diversifying into this technology. The UK is in danger of being left behind in the exploitation of these technologies.

  2.3  Tidal stream energy is a somewhat smaller resource and is limited to a few geographic locations around the UK. There have been a few small-scale experiments worldwide and a pilot-scale plant (110 kW) has recently been installed in Italy. The UK Government is currently reviewing its position on this technology. It is not yet clear whether this is a viable technology.


  3.1  At present abot 15 wave energy devices have been installed worldwide. Two have failed in service and several have been decommissioned. A further six wave energy devices are currently under construction overseas, most of which are commercial undertakings. This indicates that the technology required for wave energy is "available" but not yet mature.

  This view agrees with the findings of a major study commissioned by the DTI1. In addition, the current devices still have to demonstrate long-term reliability.

  3.2  Tidal stream energy is at an earlier stage in development, with only a few small-scale devices having been demonstrated (one in the UK). The principles by which useful energy could be extracted are well known but there is considerable R&D still required.


  4.1  The deployment of "commercial" (ie non Government funded) wave energy schemes is relatively recent. Therefore, the technology is still undergoing development and costs continue to be reduced. Work undertaken for the UK Government2 (Thorpe, 1999) indicates that costs are now between 4 and 8 p/kWh. At these prices, wave energy is competitive with some other renewable energy technologies which have had continued Government support throughout the 1980s and 1990s. Wave energy would also compete in supplying electricity to isolated or island communities, where the competition is from diesel generation. Wave energy cannot become commercially against conventional fossil fuel generation but it could become commercially viable at a later date, depending on improvements in the technology, achieving economies of scale and proving their long term reliability. Wave energy still has problems in gaining investor confidence but this is being overcome: earlier this year Woodside, a major Australian energy producer, took a 5 per cent equity in Ocean Power Technologies, a US wave energy developer, which valued the company at $60,000,000.

  4.2  Tidal stream technology is also showing improvements in generating costs but the latest figures3 do not indicate that it is yet commercially viable. This situation might change following an ongoing review of UK tidal stream technology.


  5.1  There are two main commercial projects running in the UK:

    —  The LIMPET—a 500 kW shoreline Oscillating Water Column deployed by Wavegen (Inverness) on the Scottish island of Islay in November 2000;

    —  The Pelamis—a 750 kW floating offshore device being deployed by Ocean Power Delivery (Edinburgh) for deployment offshore in 2002.

  5.2  Both of these projects applied to the Third Scottish Renewables Order (the first renewables order open to wave) and they were awarded Power Purchase Agreements. The LIMPET has been functioning satisfactorily for over two months. Both projects will have to demonstrate their success in terms of proving their reliability.

  5.3  In addition, there is research and development going on in several universities on wave energy devices and fundamentals.

  5.4  In trying to answer "Why Did Past Projects Fail?", only two wave energy devices have failed in service. If the reference is to the "failure" of the UK Wave Energy Programme (1974-83), it is arguable that this Programme was too ambitious for the funding available and that the Programme was executed before the technological benefits of the offshore oil and gas industry could be made available.

  5.5  As far as is known, there is only one tidal stream energy project underway in the UK, the design, development and deployment of a 300kW device off the south-west coast of England. Theoretical work on a very advanced form of tidal stream device is being undertaken at Edinburgh University. The only work previously undertaken within the UK was on a 20kW floating device, which is understood was successfully demonstrated.


  6.1  Wave energy should play a role alongside other renewable energy technologies in helping to reduce the harmful emissions of greenhouse gases associated with power generation. This technology has started to receive Government funding only recently and, hence, is at a less mature stage than other renewable energy technologies which have been supported continuously for about 20 years. The Marine Technology Foresight Committee proposed that wave energy should be given a higher priority than at present. This could have the benefit of building an indigenous, export winning technology in an area where there are (as yet) no dominant overseas players.

  6.2  The Marine Technology Foresight Committee also proposed that the development of tidal stream technology should be supported. Tidal stream is currently being assessed by the Government using independent consultants. The findings of this assessment will be important in deciding what steps, if any, are necessary to take this technology forward under the R&D Programme.


  7.1  This Committee cannot comment in detail on the R&D being undertaken in the UK but it applauds the co-ordinated work being carried out on wave energy between the DTI and the EPSRC. It notes that this is less than the funding received by overseas competitors (eg the Archimedes Wave Swing in the Netherlands and the Ocean Power WEC in the USA). Both these companies (and others) have well formulated plans for large-scale deployment of their technologies before 2010, which contrasts with the DTI's predictions that this technology will not make a significant contribution to energy supply until well after 2010. The views of wave energy developers (both within the UK and overseas) and their investors indicate that they envisage a more rapid market penetration.


  8.1  General Studies have been undertaken on the potential impact of offshore energy devices, as well as Environmental Impact Assessments for specific schemes. These studies indicate that, providing schemes are deployed with some care, they will not have any significant adverse effect on the environment. Their contribution to reducing energy-related greehouse gases emissions could be significant.


  9.1  About seven countries have had Government sponsored research and development programmes over the past 20 years. Hence, most of the wave and tidal stream devices deployed during this time have been overseas. There is considerably more current overseas activities both in terms of size of schemes and number of schemes. In addition to purely Government sponsored R&D, there are a number of industry-led activities:

    —  In Australia, an advanced shoreline OWC is being deployed by Energetech, which already has a power purchase agreement with the local utility in Australia. Enquiries for orders have been received from several other countries;

    —  In Canada, a number of tidal stream devices have been demonstrated and claims have been made for sales of large-scale schemes;

    —  In Ireland, a 400kW floating device (the McCabe Wave Pump) has been tested as a pilot scheme and a commercial size device is nearing completion;

    —  In Italy, a large-size (110kW) pilot tidal energy scheme was deployed in the Straits of Messina last year;

    —  In the Netherlands, another floating wave device (the Archimedes Wave Swing) has been developed. A 2 MW device is nearing the end of construction in Romania for deployment near Portugal;

    —  A novel, high efficiency tidal stream device is being developed in New Zealand;

    —  A floating wave energy device developed by Ocean Power Technology in the USA has been tested at a large scale in the Eastern Atlantic and the first commercial schemes are being built in Australia and in the Pacific, with a number of other schemes in the pipeline.

  9.2  There are early indications of success for many of these overseas companies (eg multiple orders) but long-term success has still to be demonstrated. Nevertheless, it is clear that Britain is in danger of falling behind other countries in both these areas of technology.


  1  Ove Arup, "Wave Energy: Technology Transfer and R&D Recommendations", October 2000.

  2  T W Thorpe, "A Brief Review of Wave Energy", ETSU Report R-120 for the DTI, May 1999.

  3  DTI, (1999). "New & Renewable Energy—Prospects for the 21st Century" a report by the DTI and supporting documentation (ETSU R-122).

February 2001

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