Memorandum submitted by Mr Thomas Thorpe
1.1 I am an employee of ETSU (part of AEA
Technology), which has already contributed to this enquiry through
the DTI's memorandum. However, I have been requested to submit
my individual memorandum to the Select Committee.
1.2 My main areas of expertise are energy
and environment, in which I undertake work for Government Departments,
international organisations (eg the EC and the IEA) and a wide
range of industry. In addition, I am occasionally called to the
DTI's Programme to provide independent expert advice on wave energy.
I am currently co-ordinator of the European Thematic Network on
1.3 My involvement in wave energy began
in 1989 when, as a member of the Department of Energy's Chief
Scientist's Group, I was asked by the (then) Department of Energy
to undertake an independent review of wave energy. This was concluded
in 1992  and I conducted a further review in 1999 .
1.4 The following is a brief submission
on a vast and complex topic. Additional material can be supplied
if requested by the Select Committee. I include a copy of a general
which should provide additional technical details should they
2.1 The potential adverse environmental
impacts of emissions from energy production using fossil fuels
are widely recognised. This has increased the world-wide interest
in renewable energy technologies, resulting in significant deployment
of some renewable energy technologies (eg onshore wind) and a
growing interest in others. Electricity derived from waves could
play a role alongside these other renewable energy technologies
in mitigating environmental impacts.
2.2 Wave energy represents a potentially
significant resource if the technology can be successfully developed.
The main UK Government sponsored research took place between 1974
and 1984. This was curtailed in 1984, because the technologies
at that time were estimated to be uneconomic. At the time of closing,
it would be true to say that the UK led the world in wave energy
research and know-how. Since the mid 1990's, interest in wave
energy has been growing, mainly thanks to the efforts of small
engineering companies world-wide. Several commercial wave energy
schemes are currently being installed overseas (as well as one
in the UK) and some of these have secured contracts for large-scale
deployment. In addition, conventional energy producers are now
diversifying into this technology.
2.3 In the UK, there are now only two companies
left that are actively developing wave energy devices. In 1999,
the UK Government reopened its wave energy programme and through
this it is providing support to these companies inter alia.
Nevertheless, despite these positive developments, wave energy
development in the UK is being overtaken by overseas developments,
which would result in non-UK companies exploiting this potentially
important resource in much the same way as non-UK companies dominate
the wind turbine industry.
3.1 At present, about 16 wave energy devices
have been installed world-wide, of which 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 purely commercial developments. This
indicates that the technology required for efficient generation
from wave energy is "available" but not yet mature.
In addition, these devices have to demonstrate their long-term
reliability. This view agrees with the findings of a major study
commissioned by the DTI .
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 Government
and others [1, 2] indicates a substantial improvement in predicted
generating costs over time (Figure 1), so that several devices
are predicted to have generating costs between 4 and 8p/kWh. These
reductions are similar in scale to those achieved in wind energy,
albeit without the large Government support provide to that industry
in many countries.
4.2 At these prices, wave energy is competitive
with several other renewable energy technologies. It would also
compete in supplying electricity to isolated or island communities,
where the competition is from diesel generation. It cannot yet
compete 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.
4.3 Wave energy developers still experience
some problems in gaining investor confidence but this is being
overcome, for example
Wavegen, a UK developer of wave energy,
has received significant support from 3i (a venture capital
company) and British-Borneo (an oil company).
Woodside, a major Australian energy
producer, recently took a 5 per cent equity in Ocean Power Technologies,
a US developer of an offshore wave energy device, which valued
the Australian branch of the company at $60,000,000.
Energetech, a company developing
a shoreline device, has received significant investment in its
Australian branch from Primergy, a leading developer of renewable
5. CURRENT PROJECTS
5.1 There are two main commercial projects
running in the UK:
The LIMPETa 500kW shoreline
Oscillating Water Column deployed by Wavegen (Inverness) on the
Scottish island of Islay in November 2000.
The Pelamisa 750kW floating
offshore device being developed by Ocean Power Delivery (Edinburgh)
for deployment offshore in 2002.
5.2 Both of these projects applied successfully
to the Third Scottish Renewables Order (the first renewables order
open to wave) and they were awarded Power Purchase Agreements.
While the LIMPET has functioned better than expected, both projects
will have to demonstrate their success in terms of proving their
reliability. Both projects have been successful in attracting
significant support from both industry and the DTI.
5.3 In addition, there is research and development
going on in several universities on devices and fundamentals of
wave energy. Some of these projects (which are now restricted
to funding through the EPSRC) are on devices with the potential
for the lowest generating costs that I have so far assessed, in
particular the Sloped IPS buoy at Edinburgh University and the
PS Frog at Lancaster University. It is too soon in the R&D
cycle to evaluate whether these projects will be successful.
5.4 The Select Committee asked the specific
question "Why did past projects fail?". This is an important
question, because perceived past failures have made it difficult
for entrepreneurs in wave energy to gain credibility and commercial
backing. However, it is worthwhile considering the validity of
this perceived "failure" before going on to learn any
lessons from previous projects
5.5 The UK's Wave Energy Programme between
1974 and 1984 started with a completely new technology, about
which almost nothing was known. Development of this technology
necessitated the synthesis of many disciplines (oceanography,
meteorology, mechanical engineering, civil engineering, moorings,
electrical engineering, etc etc). Despite this daunting task,
the Department of Energy's Programme developed numerous technically
viable designs and reduced the costs of generation from those
designs by factors of 4-9 during its lifetime, with prospects
for further cost reductions. Whilst it is true that, at the time
of the curtailment of the Programme, the generating costs were
uneconomically high, the achievements of this Programme were considerable
and highly regarded by many. Some of this hard-earned knowledge
was put to use in developing the UK's prototype device on the
Isle of Islay in the late 1980s, a device which has probably generated
more knowledge and in-service data than any other device world-wide.
The labelling of the Department's achievements in this field as
a "failure" does not do justice to the Programme or
the many people and organisations involved.
5.6 Coming now to lessons which may be learned
from previous "failures". My observations are those
of an independent outsider.
Closure of the Programme was taken
to be failure. However, as the developments since 1984 show, there
were still improvements to be made when the Programme was closed.
Therefore, the lesson (if any) is that such decisions can be made
only when sufficient is known about a technology for its likely
mature characteristics to be estimated. However, the decision
to close the Programme has to be taken in a wider context, eg
given the limited resources for all renewable energy technologies,
a decision had to be made regarding most promising renewable resources
(ie those that deserved greater funding or those that could make
an earlier contribution to UK energy supplies).
Leadership. Much (if not all) of
the previous Programme was undertaken reactively, in response
to suggestions, ideas and lobbying from a variety of sources.
This led to the effort and financial support being spread very
thinly amongst too many designs. My single experience of being
asked to comment on the DTI's current programme is that the credibility
of the ideas proposed for funding are scrutinised carefully, so
that money and effort are not diluted.
Responsibility. In any project I
do for industry, there is always one person (or occasionally several)
who has responsibility for making the project succeed. This is
an important, if not essential, aspect of achieving success. One
person has the authority to make the decisions required to ensure
success and the responsibility for making those decisions (they
may, of course, rely on advice and input from others). In the
Government Programmes with which I have been associated, this
key position has never been occupied. For instance, there were
numerous bodies (eg Task Groups, Advisory Groups, Steering Committees,
etc) in the Department of Energy's original Wave Energy Programme
but I could find no one to interview who had been charged with
the responsibility of making the Programme succeed. It might be
that such an allocation of responsibility and authority does not
sit well within Government supported work of this nature.
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. Therefore, care should be exercised in comparing
the various technologies at different phases of their R&D
6.2 The Marine Technology Foresight Committee
recommended that wave energy should be given a higher priority
than at present. The Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution
came to a similar decision. Adoption of these recommendations
could have the benefit of building an indigenous, export winning
technology in an area where there are (as yet) no dominant overseas
players. This aspect has been picked up by the Scottish Commission
for Wave Energy, which sees this technology as suitable for redeploying
effort and resources in its declining fishing, shipbuilding and
offshore platform construction industries. By all accounts this
view was widely shared by the Scottish Parliament at a recent
7. RESEARCH AND
7.1 Government sponsorship for R&D is
controlled by the EPSRC (for academic research undertaken in universities)
and the DTI (under its New and Renewable Energy support programme)
for work with significant industrial support. DTI and EPSRC work
closely together in all areas of renewable energy to ensure that
their programmes of work are complementary.
7.2 As always, there are calls for increases
in funding (both on renewables in general and wave energy in particular)
but these can be assessed only in the light of overall policy
7.3 One aspect that does not appear to have
been addressed is how the UK might bring about inward investment
in R&D in this technology. This is an area currently being
studied by the Scottish Commission for Wave Energy.
8.1 The Government has placed the environment
"at the heart of policy making" and is committed to
combining environmental sustainability with economic and social
progress. Prudent use of resources, including renewable resources,
is a key part of the UK's sustainable development strategy. In
addition, the UK is playing a leading role in the fight against
climate change. It has put in place a strong programme of measures
to reduce emissions, to achieve and go beyond its Kyoto target.
Development of renewable energy sources of energy is an important
part of this. Renewable sources of energy emit no greenhouse gases
in generating electricity, or are carbon neutral over their life
cycle. Wave energy has the potential to make a significant contribution
to these policies, alongside the other steps taken by the Government.
8.2 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 and simple steps can be taken to ensure that such
schemes are not a navigation hazard.
8.3 Experience indicates that wave energy
schemes can undergo a lengthy and costly planning approval process.
Simplifying this process without reducing its rigour (eg by streamlining
the number of agencies that need to be consulted) would be of
benefit not only to wave energy schemes but also to the growing
number of offshore wind energy schemes that are starting to be
9.1 About seven countries have had significant
Government sponsored research and development programmes over
the past 20 years, with several additional countries recently
taking an interest (including countries with poorer resources
such as Sri Lanka and Vietnam). Hence, most of the wave devices
deployed during this time have been overseas.
9.2 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, including the following:
In Australia, an advanced shoreline
device 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 and
several contracts are in the process of being drawn up.
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 the Netherlands, another floating
wave device (the Archimedes Wave Swing) has been developed. A
2mW device is nearing the end of construction in Romania for deployment
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 the UK is falling behind other countries in this
 "A Review of Wave Energy",
ETSU Report R-72 for the DTI, 1992.
 "A Brief Review of Wave Energy",
ETSU Report R-120 for the DTI.
 "Wave Energy for the 21st CenturyStatus
and Prospects", Renewable Energy World, July/August 2000.
 Ove Arup, "Wave Energy: Technology
Transfer and R&D Recommendations", 2000.
26 February 2001
4 Not printed. Back
This includes a shoreline device recently set up in Sri Lanka.
However, I am unable to confirm this project independently. Back