Select Committee on Science and Technology Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum submitted by Ocean Power Delivery Ltd


  Ocean Power Delivery Ltd (OPD) is an Edinburgh based company developing the Pelamis Offshore Wave Energy Converter. In brief, the Pelamis WEC is a long articulated cylinder, floating semi-submerged and moored so as to swing head-on to the incident waves. The wave-induced motion of the joints between segments is resisted by hydraulic rams configured as pumps. These pump oil through motors to generate electricity. For more information please contact OPD or visit the website at

  OPD welcomes this opportunity to submit written evidence to the Science & Technology Committee at what is a pivotal moment in the development of wave energy. We would also welcome the opportunity to contribute oral evidence, if appropriate.

  Wave energy has re-emerged as a promising source of sustainable power, to date several shoreline systems have been successfully installed and demonstrated. However, large scale deployment of wave energy capacity will only be possible away from the shoreline in deeper water where the resource is greater and environmental and visual impact are minimised.

  The UK has among the best wave energy resource in the world. The "accessible" resource has been estimated as being up to 840 TWh/yr (260 per cent of UK demand). However, the likely "economically recoverable" resource has been estimated as 50-80 TWh/yr (15-25 per cent of UK demand). Accessing this would result in an approximately £20 billion industry creating an estimated 20,000 to 30,000 long-term jobs (the UK offshore industry currently employs approximately 20,000). The world export market for wave energy systems has been estimated to be over £500 billion.

  Major advances in offshore technology since the previous UK Wave Energy programme have removed the technical barriers to early demonstration and commercialisation of offshore wave energy systems such as the Pelamis. 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".

  The UK retains a lead in wave energy but many countries and commercial organisations around the world are active in the field. Our lead is being eroded and we must move quickly to ensure that the various technologies being developed in the UK reach market ahead of the overseas competition.

  The inclusion of wave energy as a technology band within the Third Scottish Renewables Order was a visionary step that resulted in a large increase in R&D work on wave energy, this has attracted keen interest from the offshore sector. OPD also welcomes the inclusion of wave energy within the DTI's New and Renewables Energy Programme; strong support for R&D activities sends positive signals to industry and investors. However, we insist that development of cost-competitive wave energy systems must, from the outset, be "market-pull" as well as "technology-push". This follows the successful precedent set by the Danish and German wind energy programmes of the 1980s and 90s.

  It is therefore vital that commercial support for the emerging technology is continued and significantly expanded under the new Renewables Obligation. Unless this happens the industry will fail to attract the private sector investment required to ensure that the UK realises its potential to be the world-leading supplier of wave energy systems.

  Other countries are currently considering appropriate support schemes for wave energy and if these are implemented ahead of support in the UK, or if they offer markedly higher initial subsidy, the technology and therefore industry will be lost to these countries.

  It should be noted that the prediceted "opening" costs for offshore wave energy are between five and seven p/kWh depending on the particular system and the scheme size assumed. The three commercial contracts awarded to wave energy projects in the third round of the Scottish Renewables Obligation were between six and seven p/kWh. These figures are markedly lower than the entry costs of all preceding power generation technologies including fossil fuel and nuclear plant. As for any technology, the costs for wave energy will only fall rapidly if significant capacity is installed.

  The remainder of this document briefly addresses the key points set out in the Call for Evidence, 11 January 2001.

1.  Technological Viability

  We draw the Committee's attention to the conclusions of the recent Ove Arup study as quoted in the preceding section.

  The UK has the best off-shore technology, manufacturing and skill base in Europe. These are ideally suited to the commercial exploitation of wave energy. There is considerable interest from the offshore sector which is urgently seeking new areas for diversification as its core business is set to decline over the next decade. It is through effective technology transfer from this sector that wave energy will succeed.

2.  Commercial Viability

  As mentioned earlier, predicted "opening" costs for offshore wave energy systems are five-seven p/kWh. These costs are significantly lower than were achieved for early onshore wind energy and compare favourably with current costs for offshore wind and biomass, technologies that are expected to be commercially viable in the short term.

  Experience with onshore wind energy provides a good example of how costs fall dramatically as installed capacity increases. Generating costs have fallen by a factor of five over the past 20 years. In the UK contracted prices within the Non-Fossil Fuel Obligation (NFFO) fell by almost a factor of three between 1990 and 1998. There is now over 18GW of wind energy installed world wide with 13GW of this currently on-line in Europe.

  There is no reason why wave energy costs should not follow a similar trend.

3.  Current Projects

  There are currently two main UK companies actively developing wave energy systems, Ocean Power Delivery Ltd and Wavegen Ltd based in Inverness. Both companies have ambitious targets for the installation of wave energy systems in the UK and around the world.

  In addition there are three main academic device teams based at Edinburgh, Lancaster and Plymouth Universities. The Edinburgh and Lancaster teams are working with tank test models of the Sloped IPS Buoy and PS Frog respectively. The Plymouth team is currently building a small-scale offshore prototype.

  To date there have been four prototype demonstration programmes in the UK.

1.  Queen's University Belfast, 75kW shoreline OWC Now decommissioned

2.  Wavegen Ltd, 2MW OSPREY nearshore OWC
Destroyed on installation

3.  Wavegen Ltd, 500kW shoreline OWC

4.  Plymouth University, SPERBOUY demonstrator
Currently nearing completion

    It is anticipated that two further prototype systems will be installed in the UK in the near future.

1.  Ocean Power Delivery Ltd, Pelamis prototype
Expected mid-2002

2.  Sea Power International AB, FWPV prototype
Expected 2002-2003

4.  Renewables Strategy

  Wave energy should become the key priority of the UK Government's renewable energy strategy both in terms of R&D and commercial development; no other new energy technology is as finely poised.

  At present, wave energy is viewed by the DTI as a "Longer Term (after 2010)" technology which has "potential if pursued through R&D". The UK industry 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 currently leads the world in the field but must become highly focused if it is to capitalise on this advantage and become the world-leading supplier of commercial wave energy systems and consultancy services.

  As stated earlier, there has been a rapid increase of activity in the field around the world and if the UK does not intensify its R&D programme and put in place adequate commercial incentives it will lose the technology and resulting industrial opportunity.

  This is a "once-only" first-mover opportunity to achieve a success story of a similar magnitude to the Danish wind industry.

5.  Research and Development

  The Pelamis WEC is an assembly of 100 per cent "available" technology. However, demonstration of a new WEC concept must be approached in a responsible manner by carefully addressing all main elements of technical risk before proceeding to a full-scale offshore test. This can only be effectively achieved a methodical and extensive R&D programme.

  From the outset OPD has been committed to a rigorous, staged development path. The device has been extensively tank tested with a total of seven test programmes using four models at 80th, 35th, 33rd and 20th scales. The results of these tests have been used to validate numerical predictions and full device simulations. Full preliminary designs have been drafted and fully costed using quotes from industry. The onward programme to launch of the full-scale prototype by mid-2002 includes demonstration of the full system at intermediate scale and extensive testing a full-scale joint system in the laboratory. The step to a full-scale technology demonstrator must be as pure an engineering exercise as possible, rather than an uncertain part of the research and development process.

  Following John Battle's 1999 announcement of the reopening of a UK programme, wave energy has become eligible for funding within the DTI's New and Renewable Energy Programme. The available budget is modest at present with an estimated £0.5 million committed during 2000-2001 and a verbal assurance that approximately £1 million per year will be made available for the next two years. This initiative was warmly welcomed by OPD but we feel that the budget must expand significantly over the next few years. We have recently completed work on our first DTI funded programme and have provisionally secured a grant for the next stage.

  The DTI programme is being managed by ETSU and is well co-ordinated. Research is being targeted at promising schemes while still being open to new ideas and fundamental work. All grant applications are being peer reviewed at an early stage. OPD recognises that ETSU is successfully performing a difficult task within the restrictions of a limited budget.

  Funding is also available to academic projects through the EPSRC Renewable and New Energy Technologies (RNET) programme. Finally, funding is available within the EU 5th Framework programme for collaborative R&D projects.

6.  Environmental Aspects

  It is anticipated that the environmental impact of offshore wave energy will be minimal and may in some cases be positive.

7.  International Comparisons

  The following countries are active in wave energy:

    —  Australia, China, Denmark, Germany, Greece, India, Ireland, Israel, Japan, Mexico, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Russia, Sri Lankia, Sweden, the UK, the USA, Vietnam and the EU.

Of these only four are known to have significant, centrally funded programmes:

    —  Denmark, Ireland, the UK and the EU

  Denmark in particular is aggressively pursuing wave energy through a £3 million government programme.

  OPD view the serious commercial competition to be active in:

    —  Australia, Denmark, Ireland, the Netherlands, Portugal, Sweden and the UK.


  OPD has worked closely with the Commission for Wave Power in Scotland, the Scottish Renewables Forum Ltd and the Scottish Parliamentary Renewable Energy Group to set out the following proposal for supporting the demonstration and commercialisation of wave energy in the UK.

  1.  The budget available on the DTI wave programme should be significantly increased.

  2.  Technologies that have already been successfully demonstrated (namely shoreline oscillating water columns) should be offered immediate capital grant assistance within the new Renewables Obligation (RO) to allow further plant to be installed.

  3.  A UK wave energy test site should be set up as soon as possible to allow promising offshore concepts to be installed and tested.

  4.  Once a concept has been successfully demonstrated it should be offered significant capital grant assistance within the RO (on at least the same scale as proposed for offshore wind) until costs fall to the point where it becomes competitive with mainstream renewables. It is anticipated that with appropriate support this will be achieved before 2010.

10 February 2001

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