Memorandum submitted by the Renewable
Power Committee, Power Industries Division, Institution of Mechanical
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
GE Power Systems (Europe)
General Electric International Inc
School of the Built Environment
Commonwealth Development Corporation
First Renewables Ltd
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
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. CURRENT PROJECTS
5.1 There are two main commercial projects
running in the UK:
The LIMPETa 500 kW shoreline
Oscillating Water Column deployed by Wavegen (Inverness) on the
Scottish island of Islay in November 2000;
The Pelamisa 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
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
7. RESEARCH AND
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
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
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
EnergyProspects for the 21st Century" a report by
the DTI and supporting documentation (ETSU R-122).