Memorandum submitted by Mr William Dick,
This response is limited to ocean wave energy.
The opinions expressed are personal.
Background , the Wavebob
What follows is in part based on the findings
from ongoing research and development of the Wavebob. That work,
which started in 1997, is now well advanced but is by no means
complete. The Wavebob is an Irish invention and the IPR is now
owned by Wavebob Limited, an independent private limited company
registered in Dublin. The shareholders include Forrest Renewables
Limited, a UK-registered company with Norwegian associations,
the Irish Government through the Marine Institute, and the inventor,
The R&D has necessarily and usefully included
a strong element of participation by UK institutions and companies,
as well as Irish, Norwegian and Greek inputs. The project has
been granted Eureka status. It is now probable that, if successful,
much of the future development, fabrication and servicing will
be based in Belfast.
It is now well known that one of the most energetic
ocean wave energy climates in the World is that off the North
Western coast of Europe, and especially in the winter. It is also
known that the size of this resource in deep water (say 100 metres)
is immense and it is, in human terms, eternal. If significant
amounts of ocean wave energy are to be exploited then the preferred
technology must be capable of sustained and cost-efficient operation
in a very demanding offshore environment.
The relevant "knowledge base" has
been greatly enhances since the '70s in two essential areas, each
including a host of related topics:
the theory of ocean wave energy conversion
(started as university courses in 1973 by Salter in Edinburgh,
Budal in Trondheim);
the technology demanded by offshore
operations (the DTI has recognised the scope for technology transfer
from the oil and gas industries).
We intentionally set out to design a device
to work in deep water and in large arrays. It should float (ie
not required rigid attachment to the seabed, and be independent
of tidal range). It should accept wave energy from any direction.
The power take-off should use proven components, ideally hydraulics.
It should be as efficient as possible, ie deliver power at prices
at least comparable to onshore wind turbines. It must be seaworthy,the
100-year "design wave" off the west coast of Ireland
is 35 metres. It should be easily fabricated, accessible from
the surface, designed for shore-based maintenance, have in-built
redundancy. In effect, the preferred device would be a class known
as self-reacting point absorbers.
The prime objective, unlike that adopted in
many previous solutions, has been to recover power in useful quantities
at low cost, rather than to strive to recover as much of the incident
power as possible.
Responses to the issues listed by the Committee
Please note that these comments are personal
ones and not necessarily those of Wavebob Limited or its other
Based on our R&D work on the Wavebob, and
what we have learnt generally during the last few years, the issues
raised by the Science and Technology Committee may be responded
to as follows:
Technological viability: Following
a series of independent theoretical analyses, and empirical testing
(more to follow), we have good evidence that the technology required
for efficient power generation from ocean wave energy will be
available within the next two to three years;
Commercial availability: Our target
is to deliver electricity to the shore at prices in the range
3-5 eurocents per kilowatt hour. We consider this to be achievable
and to be bettered in the future. A single "wave-farm"
should typically have an installed capacity of several hundred
MWe. We expect better efficiencies, greater availability and lower
costs than for offshore wind (the latter also being constrained
to shallower water);
Current projects: Near-shore or shoreline
OWC's must necessarily be very limited for three reasons: the
available resource is very much smaller at the shoreline; relatively
very high civil costs per MWe installed; air turbines cannot compete
commercially with hydraulics for power take-off. Of the UK's offshore/near
shore devices, the Pelamis is commendable, but its seaworthiness
in open waters may be a problem, nor is it truly axi-symmetric;
Renewables strategy: The scale of
the resource should speak for itself; it will in due course become
more significant than, say, at a regional level, North Sea oil
and gas. I would respectively suggest that the most expeditious
strategy would be to give fiscal incentives to industry rather
than grants to universities, in particular target the major players
in the energy sector and motivated SME's. The former are fully
aware of the coming changes in their sector, the latter often
have the commercial motivation and the ideas. Universities have
led the R&D and will surely continue to contribute but they
have not, normally, the same sense of urgency to drive the process,
nor to take short cuts or risks;
Research and development: The DTI's
recent New and Renewable Energy Programme included Wave as a priority;
the DTI has also recognised the opportunity to transfer technology
from the offshore industries. The RPSRC seems unsympathetic. The
success of wave energy projects in a recent SRO was remarkable.
Direct EC co-financing of wave energy research is minuscule but,
indirectly, investment in large-scale testing facilities may be
beneficial. We have consistently sought peer reviews, but as the
R&D progressed it became increasingly difficult to find qualified
reviewers. The sea is an effective judge;
Environmental aspects: The Wavebob
will be slackly moored, typically in water depths of 100m or more.
It is not a permanent fixture; most of the device will be underwater.
A wave-farm will be a navigational hazard, somewhat comparable
to a collection of large Admiralty buoys. On-board hydraulic fluids
may be bio-degradable, but either way the quantities will be small
and doubly enclosed. Judiciously sited, a wave-farm might protect
known breeding grounds;
International comparisons: As an
Irishman, I hesitate! But, based on attendance at EU Wave Energy
Conferences, various workshops and meetings, literature surveys,
and so forth, I offer the following:
The UK's (`Britain' is the term used here in
your call, but may I assume NI is included?) has a very high standing
in the R&D in this sector. Notably university led, conspicuously
by Belfast and Edinburgh. In terms of theoretical understanding,
Norway has an at least comparable if not a better record, once
again university led (Trondheim). At a national level, ie trying
to encourage an emerging technology, the Danes have made significant
commitments. Portugal (OWC in Pico and the AWS pilot plants),
the Netherlands (the AWS), Sweden (Chalmers and Gotenburg universities)
and Ireland (McCabe Pump and the Wavebob) are all in evidence.
Noted concepts have arisen in Japan (the BBDB) and the USA. Wildly
impractical ideas still proliferate. Of the various current projects,
and apart from small OWC devices, a very few devices have been
or are in the process of being realised at full scale,two
OWC devices (the Limpet and one on Pico) and the AWS (Archimedes
Wave Swing) a Dutch invention being erected off Portugal. Richard
Yemm's Pelamis is well researched and may reach full-scale implementation.
A further comment and suggestion
As a general comment, coupled with a suggestion,
and both offered with all due deference, your "Call for Evidence"
reflects an insular approach, one that must prejudice early success
in a technology that could be so very significant.
In our case we have established a strong design
team, and one that is a happy mix of expertise from universities,
small and large industries, technical consultants and state institutions.
The R&D work is spread between Ireland, Northern Ireland,
Britain, Norway and Greece, ie wherever the appropriate excellence
is available and is willingly provided.
The problems of climate change, combined with
finite resources of fossil fuels and the inevitable matters of
cost and security of supply, are global. The seas are part of
the common heritage of man, but the ocean wave energy resource
that they carry is not evenly distributed. We in this part of
Europe have a unique opportunity and an urgent duty to harness
I believe that it would be right if the "coastal"
states1 of NW Europe worked together to encourage the development
of this technology. There are common barriers that need to be
removed and there is scope for a greatly accelerated development.
This might best be achieved at a political level, and via the
European Parliament. The EU has taken a lead in pressing for reduction
in greenhouse gas emissions, but as yet the Commission has evidently
little faith in wave energy conversion as a serious option. In
any event EC programmes tend to be cumbersome methods of funding
industrial R&D where there are commercial goals.
The DTI draft report2 listed several key technology
issues and made five recommendations. To these, four more generation
recommendations could be added:
A properly equipped open sea test
site for full-size pilot plants, perhaps internationally funded.
That at Nissum Bredning in Denmark is in sheltered waters and
suitable for small-scale devices. As such it is a useful clearing
ground, but could not meet the needs of rigorous empirical testing,
for which a large wave tank is essential;
Financial support for industry-led
renewables R&D, and for private investors, both perhaps as
fiscal instruments; both quite distinct from competitive research
Abandonment of the NFFO/SRO/AER competitions
in favour of pre-determined and adequately priced power purchase
agreements for any qualifying scheme and thus share some of the
risk at national level.
1 These to include Norway, Sweden, Denmark,
The Netherlands, Portugal, Ireland and the UK.
2 DTI Wave Energy: Technology Transfer &
R&D Recommendations. Draft Report. Ove Arup and Partners International
Ltd. October 2000.