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


Memorandum submitted by the Commission for Wave Power in Scotland

  The Commission for Wave Power in Scotland is a group formed to determine how to capitalise on the industrial opportunities offered by Scotland's position as world leader in wave power. It is comprised of representatives from trade unions, electricity suppliers, renewable energy investors, wave energy experts and also includes a cross-party range of MSPs. The Scottish Council Foundation, a leading think tank, is providing the secretariat. Scottish Enterprise and Highlands & Islands Enterprise advise the Commission as do the two Scottish wave power companies—WaveGen, based in Inverness, and Edinburgh's Ocean Power Delivery.

  The Commission's Scottish focus is largely due to the presence in Scotland of the two UK-based wave power companies and the fact that the vast majority of the wave power resource in the UK is also located in Scotland. Nevertheless, the Commission is abreast of developments elsewhere and is particularly well placed to comment on the state of wave power in the UK.

Members of the Commission:

  Tracey White, Scottish Trades Union Congress [chair]

  Robin Harper MSP

  Cathy Jamieson MSP

  Andrew Lyon, Forward Scotland

  George Lyon MSP

  Kenny MacAskill MSP

  James Martin, Scottish & Southern Energy

  Jeremy Sainsbury, Fred Olsen Productions Ltd

  Ian Taylor, Greenpeace

  Tom Thorpe, ETSU

Advisors to the Commission:

  Blair Armstrong, Scottish Enterprise

  Elaine Hanton, Highlands & Islands Enterprise

  Richard Yemm, Ocean Power Delivery

  Allan Thomson, WaveGen

Secretariat to the Commission:

  Mike Davies, Scottish Council Foundation


  The run down of the UK Department of Energy's Wave Energy Programme in 1982 left the technology with a significant credibility problem. Nevertheless, about 15 viable wave energy devices have been installed worldwide since 1983. Only two of these devices have failed in service and several have been decommissioned. The most recent device is the LIMPET, a shoreline device at Islay (Scotland), which came on stream in October 2000. There are approximately six further wave energy devices currently under construction overseas, the largest of which is a 2 MW system scheduled to be installed in Portugal later this year. Most of these devices are being built by industry as commercial undertakings.

  The evidence of functioning devices and the involvement of commercial interests give a clear indication that the technology required for wave energy is available. A major study commissioned by the DTI1 in 2000 concluded:

    No major technological 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.

    Ove Arup

      However, the technology is far from mature—further research and development is required and is being undertaken.


      Industrial involvement is developing commercial wave energy schemes is relatively recent (since about the mid 1990s). As a result, the technology is still undergoing development. This is illustrated in the graph shown in Figure 1, taken from an independent, peer-reviewed assessment of wave energy undertaken for the DTI2. It shows that the predicted cost of electricity from wave energy devices has reduced significantly since the run down of the UK's Wave Energy Programme, and costs are now between four and eight p/kWh. These predictions are confirmed by the devices that have been awarded contracts in the Third Scottish Renewables Order (SRO 3).

      At these prices, wave energy is competitive with several other renewable energy technologies, all of which have had the benefit of continued Government support throughout the 1980's and 1990's. These prices enable wave energy to compete in supplying electricity to isolated or island communities, where the competition is from diesel generation. However, wave energy cannot yet compete commercially against conventional fossil fuel generation. The historic reduction in generating costs and the involvement of industry and commercial investors indicate that continued reductions in generating costs are likely and that wave energy could become commercially viable at a later date. One of the main factors in this will be the achievement of economies of scale as more devices are built; this has been one of the main reasons for the improved competitiveness of other renewable energy technologies, such as onshore wind.

  It is true to say that wave energy still has some problems in gaining investor confidence. However, both of the Scottish wave energy companies have achieved significant industrial backing. A similar situation exists overseas. For instance, earlier this year Woodside (a major Australian energy producer) took a 5 per cent equity stake in Ocean Power Technologies (an American company whose sole product is a wave energy device), which valued the company at $60,000,000.


Current Commercial Projects

  There are two main commercial projects running in the UK:

    —  The LIMPET. This is a shoreline Oscillating Water Column (OWC) developed by WaveGen. At present, it has the capacity to supply up to 0.5 MW of power to the grid on the Scottish island of Islay (there is scope for future upgrading of the system). In this type of device, the wave energy collector takes the form of a partially submerged shell into which seawater is free to enter and leave (Figure 2). As the water enters or leaves, the level of water in the plenum chamber rises or falls in sympathy. A column of air, contained above the water level, is alternately compressed and expanded by this movement to generate an alternating steam of high velocity air in an exit blowhole. If this air stream is allowed to flow to and from the atmosphere via a pneumatic turbine, energy can be extracted from the system and used to generate electricity.

    —  The Pelamis. The Pelamis is a device being developed by Ocean Power Delivery for deployment offshore (Figure 3). It consists of a number of cylindrical sections hinged together. The wave-induced motion of the cylinders is resisted at the joints by hydraulic rams that pump high pressure oil through hydraulic motors via smoothing accumulators. The hydraulic motors drive electrical generators to produce electricity. A 750kW device will be 150m long and 3.5m in diameter and composed of five modular sections. Power will be linked to the grid via sub sea power cables.

  Key features of the Pelamis device include proven survivability and the resourcing of all its components from currently available technology. The device is undergoing a staged development programme. Model testing (both in the frequency and time domain) at 80th (survivability), 35th (numerical code validation) and 20th (survivability and numerical model validation) scale has been successfully completed. The next immediate target is a 7th scale prototype for systems development to be deployed in early 2001.

  Both these projects applied to the SRO3 and were awarded Power Purchase Agreements, which is an indicator of success. However, they will have to demonstrate this success with in-service performance.

Current Academic Projects

  In addition, there is work going on in several organisations, including:

    —  Edinburgh University. Work still continues here on the famous "Duck". However, in recent years efforts have been focused on a smaller modular device (the Sloped IPS Buoy), which has promising economics (see Figure 1).

    —  Lancaster University. This establishment continues to develop the PS Frog, albeit with scarce funding despite this being the device with the lowest predicted generating costs (see Figure 1).

  In addition Portsmouth University inter alia is developing a floating OWC and theoretical research is being conducted at a number of academic establishments.

  It is difficult to quantify "success" in projects at this phase in the development of a device. It is true to say that these concepts have successfully learned from the mistakes of the UK Wave Energy Programme.

Why Did Past Projects Fail?

  The UK Wave Energy Programme ran from 1974 to 1983. It was set up in response to the oil crisis of the 1970s and its remit was to extract the greatest amount of useful energy out of the seas around the UK. Hence, its initial design target was for a 2,000 MW wave power station (in comparison, most of the successful devices currently being developed are between 0.5 and 2 MW). Wave energy was a completely new technology and so, with hindsight, this early target was over-ambitious and led to designs for huge devices, which were technically very challenging and commercially uneconomic.

  In addition, the UK Wave Energy Programme was undertaken at a time when the North Sea offshore oil and gas industry was starting to develop. The more modern wave energy devices have had the benefit of 20+ years of experience gained in the offshore industry, which has led to improved designs.


  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. It is important to realise that this technology has been starved of Government funding until relatively recently and, hence, is at a less mature stage than other renewable energy technologies which have had the benefits of continuous support for 15 to 25 years. In order to rectify this imbalance, wave energy should be given a higher priority than at present.

  Another important aspect of the DTI's strategy is to build export-winning technologies. It has failed to do so with most of the renewable energy technologies that it has supported to date (eg nearly all wind turbines in the UK are imports). With wave energy, the Government has the opportunity to develop a world-leading industry. This is one of the main reasons that this Scottish Commission was formed.

  Governmental support is seen as critical in three main areas if the UK is to achieve a pre-eminent position in this technology:

    —  R&D. This is currently being achieved at a moderate scale through DTI grants and EPSRC supported projects.

    —  Early Deployment. The technology would benefit from having a suitable test site with good grid connections to act as a development site and shop window for the technology.

    —  Market Status. Mechanisms need to remain in place which will help achieve suitable economies of scale. The various renewables obligations (NFFO, SRO, etc) have supported other renewable energy technologies over the past 20 years, helping them to achieve a status where some of them can now start to compete in the market for power generation. This type of support has been made available to wave energy since only 1999.


  This Commission is not in a position where it can comment in detail on the R&D being undertaken in the UK. However, it notes that the funding from the DTI is predicted on the DTI believing 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.

  This Commission recognises the complementary activities of the DTI and the EPSRC in funding industry-led and academia-led R&D respectively. However, it also notes the lack of support for undertakings that would be of benefit to the whole of wave energy (eg having a common test facility as noted above). In particular it views with some dismay the imminent closure of the wide tank test facility at Edinburgh University.


  The potential impact of wave energy devices on the environment has been investigated in general2 and for specific cases such as the LIMPET. These studies and operation experience show that, providing wave energy devices are deployed with some care, they will not have any significant adverse effect on the environment. Indeed, their positive environmental attributes have led organisations such as Greenpeace to campaign in support of this technology and the original pilot plant on Islay was a tourist attraction.

  Wave energy devices situated offshore can have some impact on navigation. Providing simple steps are taken (eg use of navigation lights and radar reflectors) wave energy devices should avoid being any hazard to shipping.

  Wave energy devices could also limit fishing in some areas. However, this can be more than offset by using these devices as artificial reefs, which has the effect of promoting marine growth and diversity.

  In addition, wave energy can have many important socio-economic benefits. It has been estimated that the economic market for wave energy could be at least £500 billion, with substantial consequences for employment in many of the areas that are gradually being run down in the UK (eg ship builders could readily convert to fabrication of wave energy devices).


  Several countries have had Government sponsored research and development programmes over the past twenty years. Hence, of the 15 devices deployed during this time, only two have been in the UK (the LIMPET and its predecessor, a 75 kW pilot plant also on Islay). All of these countries have a much less favourable wave climate to exploit (eg China, Denmark, India, Japan, Portugal and Sri Lanka). Of particular note is the structured programme in Denmark, which allows for a range of funding appropriate to the maturity of a concept (ie initial concepts are given a small amount of money to permit initial tests and if these look promising, more monies are made available to proceed to the next phase of development and so on).

  There are also industry led activities, particularly in Australia, Ireland, the Netherlands and USA as outlined in Table 1. Most of these activities have led to the first commercial size plants being under construction. In several cases, confidence in these plants is so high that orders have been placed already for additional devices.

  There are indications of early 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 no longer the clear world leader in wave energy. Therefore this Commission urges the Science and Technology Committee to undertake all that it can to support this emerging and important technology, which can have so many important benefits.

Table 1  Summary of Overseas Commercial Activities [Reference 3]

CountryDevice DescriptionStatus


This is an advanced shoreline OWC, which uses a novel, variable pitch turbine to improve efficiency and a parabolic wall behind the OWC to focus the wave energy on the OWC collector (see Figure 4). This could lead to significant improvements in the economics of OWCs. This scheme already has a power purchase agreement with the local utility in Australia and construction is about to begin. This is a joint venture between the developer and a renewable energy investment company. A contract is being drawn up with another utility for a second device in a European country.
IrelandMcCabe Wave Pump This device consists of three narrow rectangular steel pontoons, which are hinged together across their beam pointing into the incoming waves (Figure 5). The pontoons move relative to each other and energy is extracted from this rotation by linear hydraulic rams mounted between the pontoons near the hinges. A 40 metre long prototype of this device was deployed off the coast of Kilbaha in Ireland a few years ago. A commercial demonstration scheme is currently being built and is scheduled for deployment this year using mainly private money but with some input from public funds.
NetherlandsArchimedes Wave Swing This consists of a cylindrical, air filled chamber (the "Floater"), which can move vertically with respect to the cylindrical "Basement", which is fixed to the sea bed (Figure 6). This movement is generated by the changes in buoyancy of the air within the floater as waves pass over the top. A 2 MW Pilot scheme is currently being constructed in Romania for deployment near Portugal. This is supported financially and technically by a large Dutch utility and several industrial companies.
USAOPT WECThe Wave Energy Converter developed by Ocean Power Technology (OPT) consists of a float-based system to drive the generators using mechanical force developed by the vertical movement of a wave energy converter. The OPT system has been extensively 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.


  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.  "Wave Energy for the 21st Century—Status and Prospects", Renewable Energy World, August 2000.

8 February 2001

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