Select Committee on Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Written Evidence

Memorandum 7

Submission from the Marine Institute for Innovation, University of Plymouth

    —  The current state of UK research and development in, and the deployment of, renewable energy-generation technologies including: offshore wind; photovoltaics; hydrogen and fuel cell technologies; wave; tidal; bioenergy; ground source heat pumps: and intelligent grid management and energy storage.


  This evidence sets out to inform the committee of a major new research initiative in the South West of England concerning the development of commercially viable wave energy conversion devices. The research is to be carried out jointly by the Universities of Exeter and Plymouth through the Peninsular Research Institute for Marine Renewable Energy (PRIMaRE). This work is being developed in partnership with the South West Regional Development Agency, who are currently developing the associated WAVE HUB project which will provide the necessary infrastructure to support the deployment of 4 new prototype wave energy conversion devices off the north coast of Cornwall. The evidence provides details of PRIMaRE's functions, planned capital investments and priority research projects. Recommendations are made with regard to actions that could be taken to strengthen research investment from both the public and private sectors.


  This evidence is submitted by Andrew J Chadwick, Professor of Coastal Engineering and Associate Director of the Marine Institute, University of Plymouth, Jim Grant, Enterprise Leader, University of Plymouth, George Smith, Professor of Renewable Energy, University of Exeter and Dr Catherine Bass, Research Development Officer, University of Exeter on behalf of PRIMaRE.


PRIMaRE—Peninsula Research Institute for Marine Renewable Energy

  1.  The Universities of Exeter and Plymouth are collaborating to develop PRIMaRE as a response to the need for academic institutions to have the capability to provide multidisciplinary, multi-institutional collaborative research associated with the development of marine renewable energy. PRIMaRE will be able to respond to the demand-pull for high quality relevant and timely research from the commercial sector, government departments, NGOs and sector based organisations. We believe it is by thinking "big" in terms of research activities that academic institutions can have the best, most efficient and most durable solutions to research needs within the sector.

  2.  The South West Regional Development Agency's WAVE HUB project provides a key factor in the growth of PRIMaRE offering a platform for the demonstration of wave energy device arrays in situ, the complex operation, monitoring and support regimes required, as well as a full understanding of the environmental and physical impact of the scheme. The Wave Hub project will also help to examine the processes involved in bringing energy ashore, the interface between land and offshore infrastructures and the factors influencing efficiency, reliability and maintainability of device arrays. The South West Regional Development Agency (SWRDA) has proposed Wave Hub as a project to demonstrate the provision of electrical infrastructure necessary to support and encourage developers of wave energy converter devices (WECs) to generate electricity from wave energy. Regen SW refer to the Wave Hub as a "revolutionary" development that could lead to the "creation of up to 700 jobs and contribute £27 million a year to the economy". It would also generate enough clean, renewable energy to power 14,000 homes. Wave Hub will support the UK government's energy policy by contributing towards the UK's drive to meet the challenges and achieve the goals of the new energy policy including a 60% reduction in carbon emissions by 2050. In addition, Wave Hub will support the South West region's commitment to encouraging technologies for renewable energy generation that will contribute to the region's renewable energy target of 11%-15% of electricity production by 2010. Wave Hub is essential in helping to bridge the gaps between production prototypes and full commercial wave farms and will enable up to four developers at any one time to test arrays of their individual devices. At present, three developers have expressed an interest in linking devices to Wave Hub. The tests may last up to five years in order to prove the reliability, maintainability, operability and effectiveness of their devices in marine conditions. They will also be gathering data on power outputs to see if the devices can produce the levels of energy / electricity expected. When operational, Wave Hub will be situated 17km offshore off Hayle on the North Cornwall Coast. Hayle has been recognised as the ideal place to bring power ashore because of its close proximity to the grid and the presence of an existing substation.

  3.  PRIMaRE is a reflection of these institutions' belief that there is a rapidly growing opportunity for the creation and development of the marine renewable energy market (evidence from the EU Green Maritime Paper supports this). UK industry is strategically well placed to take a substantial share of this market if it is properly mobilised with UK Government encouragement and is suitably supported in terms of R&D, innovation services, knowledge transfer and education & training by the academic sector. Each institution in itself does not have the critical mass to undertake such important tasks or meet the challenge—hence the decision to join forces. There is some additional benefit of economies of scale in the administration and function of the organisation.

  4.  PRIMARE is a vehicle developed to identify the landscape for marine renewable research both in long term opportunities and short term requirements and to provide a delivery capability. It is designed to provide the strategic vision and leadership in the UK and be part of and function alongside other major European marine energy initiatives. PRIMARE has therefore already considered key strategic issues behind the growth of the marine renewable energy sector and is endeavouring to position itself and shape itself to meet those challenges.

  5.  The scale of our ambition is:

  The establishment of a first-class, leading-edge, regional research facility and equipment asset pool available for all regional marine energy stakeholders.

  To generate a £6-8 million pa (sustainable) research programme, a population of 30-50 academics plus similar (or greater) numbers of researchers and postgraduate students. To provide long term benefits for Education and Training and supply of suitably qualified manpower.

  To position Exeter and Plymouth as a leading international presence in marine renewable energy research and development.


6.1  Task Area 1: Resource Characterisation

  An important lesson learned from the wind industry is that the basis of any successful renewable energy development, and the degree to which such developments can be expedited, is a "bankable" quantification of the resource being exploited. This task area aims to establish resource characterisation procedures that will form the standard against which banks, venture capitalists, insurance companies and other investors will conduct due diligence, prior to investment decisions. Projects include:

    —  Wave climate monitoring.

    —  Development of wave climate modeling.

    —  Development of WEC energy absorption models for resource assessment.

    —  Development of bankable wave climate analysis and interpretation methods.

    —  Development of bankable resource reporting standards.

    —  Correlation methodology for long term and short term observations.

6.2  Task Area 2: Marine Operations

  This task area focuses on research that will enable project revenues to be enhanced or operating costs to be reduced through WEC design improvements, with particular regard to array configurations. The prime measure is the array capacity factor. This can be improved by maximising the reliability and availability of all system components as well as maximising the proportion of the available resource that is intercepted. Projects include:

    —  Optimisation of WEC device development and configuration.

    —  Mooring systems for WEC array configurations.

    —  Deployment and recovery logistics.

    —  WEC control system, development, reliability and availability.

    —  Foundations analysis and marine geo-technics.

    —  Electrical infrastructure dynamics and performance.

    —  Interactions between fluid, structure and sea bed.

    —  Total system monitoring, data archiving and publication.

    —  Component and reliability and failure.

6.3  Task Area 3: Environmental Impact

  Wave Hub project development activity has already highlighted that the scope of the environmental impact assessment for a wave energy development is very broad. This is in part due to its novelty. The breadth of the environmental impact assessment impacts proportionally on project capital expenditure. At present, within the UK at least, there are many more wind development projects that have been delayed or refused on grounds of environmental impact than wind farms actually installed. Wind power developers not only have to consider the costs of developments that successfully proceed through the planning and EIA stages, but also need to account for similar costs for unsuccessful development initiatives. To expedite the development of a wave energy industry it is vital that research-grade effort is devoted to the environmental impact assessment process at the stage of the first significant wave farm development, ie the Wave Hub. The essential contribution of this task area will be to identify the significant impacts on which such studies should focus and to distinguish these from second, or higher, order impacts to reduce the capital intensity of future wave power project developments. Projects include detailed, research grade base-line surveys and subsequent monitoring of:

    —  Fisheries.

    —  Marine vertebrates.

    —  Benthos.

    —  Coastal bio-diversity and geo-morphology.

    —  Electromagnetic effects.

6.4  Task Area 4: Safe and Economic Operations and Marine Risk Mitigation

  A brief analysis of the business case and final design documentation for Wave Hub reveals that the component of projected operating costs that has increased most through the various stages is insurance. This is in part due to the uncertainties associated with the absence of precedent projects and experience of wave energy developments on the scale of Wave Hub. While it is likely that at least initially insurance premiums for WEC developers and the OpCo are likely to be high, this should not preclude applying significant research effort to increase the a priori safety of Wave Hub, and similar future developments. For example, this task area aims to develop failsafe systems that will actively deter marine traffic from approaching the exclusion area, rather than relying on passive warning systems such as beacons. Some of the tasks aim to establish practical, workable codes of operational practice that should improve insurer confidence. The resulting research products should result in dramatic downward revisions of insurance premiums and, therefore, operating costs. In the instance of wave power developments, safer operations will definitely be more cost competitive. Projects include:

    —  Navigation challenges.

    —  Exclusion zones for marine renewable energy device arrays.

    —  Technological mitigation measures to reduce insured risk and operating costs.

    —  Development of active collision avoidance systems.

    —  Classification and certification of Wave Hub and Wave devices.

    —  Strategies of alternative marine users.

    —  Through-life costs.

    —  Decommissioning.

    —  Component recycling and impact on project value and cost of power.

6.5  Task Area 5: Underwater and Surface Electrical Systems

  Undoubtedly, the variability, intermittency and vigour of the energy resource being exploited in wave power development results in circumstances in the area of electrical power distribution that merit research-grade investigation, beyond initial design of the system. Research effort in this task area aims not only to investigate reliability and compliance issues allied to the continuity and quality of electricity supplied, but also to conduct research that anticipates undesirable events and develops measures to mitigate them. In the case of the wind industry, cabling and connection arrangements for wind farms are not normally guaranteed by the distribution network operator, but connection is maintained on a best endeavours basis. For WEC developers, the marine electrical power infrastructure will be their life-line to revenue, therefore it is sensible that research effort be allocated toward measures that will permit as close to 100% connection availability as possible. Projects include:

    —  Reliability, maintainability and availability of submerged electrical infrastructure.

    —  Onboard and seabed condition monitoring and control systems.

    —  Power flow and fault current analysis modelling in the face of wave energy variability and intermittency and climate change.

    —  Power system protection design for optimal connection reliability.

    —  Development of fault location techniques for submerged cables.

    —  Investigation of network dynamic stability and impact of faults in distribution networks on Wave Hub reliability.

    —  Investigation of transmission and distribution grid reinforcement or capacity expansion measures for existing and future marine energy developments.

    —  Investigation of requirements for novel control strategies for fault ride-through.

6.6  Task Area 6: Socio-Economic Factors

  To improve the investment environment for marine renewables, and wave power specifically, it is critical that the policy environment and economic conditions are right to allow investors to make their decisions with confidence. Clearly, the Wave Hub's central role as a pre-commercial demonstration project will help establish these conditions. However, research tasks in this area build on the prime objective by having the aim of clarifying routes to expedite the growth of the market for wave energy; activities in this area focus on identification of hurdles to be overcome, the development of policy initiatives, identification of market enabling actions, and isolation of first order economic factors that will determine the rate of market growth. In addition, research efforts here aim to record the perceptions of the wider community of stakeholders in the general marine environment and to identify actions that will maintain the south west's first mover advantage in wave power. Projects include:

    —  Marine spatial planning.

    —  Public and other stakeholder perception.

    —  Regional and national policy drivers to permit optimal project financing.

    —  Strategies for adding value to Wave Hub via marketing and branding.

    —  Industrialisation and establishment of knowledge economy clusters and sectors for the SW economy.

    —  Capturing the project development "roadmap"; delivery of project development toolkit.

    —  Carbon and energy life cycle audit for wave power developments arrays.

    —  Indirect economic and social benefits of Wave Hub.

    —  Socio-economic aspects of decommissioning.


  Six major capital research investments are under consideration:

    —  An array of 12 wave measurement buoys, which will provide an internationally competitive measuring system for fundamental marine/coastal research which will inevitably constitute a natural attractor for both research funding and academic expertise. This will provide a measurement of the wave and current resource that will be necessary for Wave Hub OpCo. The high performance of this array is also essential in order to undertake the type of applied joint research with the device developers on the control systems aimed at improving the survivability and performance of WECs.

    —  A substantive new Wave Basin and flumes which will be used to test and validate models of devices and systems and contribute to the better understanding of the inter-relationship between devices, the supporting infrastructure and the environment.

    —  Collision Avoidance and Monitoring equipment which will address key issues of risk.

    —  A Mooring Test Facility that will allow international level research in design, numerical modelling and full-scale testing and provide support for developer driven research topics.

    —  Materials and Components testing. This will be done at a range of levels, but at its most ambitious it could involve a full reliability test rig This would be a unique facility in the EU and might be supported from the forthcoming European FP7 "infrastructure" call.

    —  Vessels for Marine Monitoring and Impact. These will be used to deploy equipment but will also be used to support the proposals from Exeter and Plymouth for the assessment of environmental impact and benefits (both with regards the wholesale effect on flora and fauna and a specific understanding of the effects on fisheries of a "no-take" zone).


  We believe that the development of marine renewable energy devices is where the greatest industrial attention will be focused, where industrial outputs will have the greatest benefit to UK energy provision and offer the greatest means to combat climate change. Thus, they are likely to offer durable solutions, and create a new industry sector where the UK can be a leading player. Provision of UK government support for this industry and the necessary wide ranging research needs is therefore crucial to both the development of UK energy supplies and to UK competitiveness in international markets. To provide the necessary research support we recommend the following:

  8.1  UK Government to make marine renewable energy research a greater priority within the research councils (support for fundamental and applied research) and other government departments (responsible for applied research, innovation, industrial and sector development etc).

  8.2  UK Government to bring together the Research Councils, Government Departments and Industrial Stakeholders to facilitate the development of the necessary multi-institutional, multi-disciplinary research clusters. Such developments would benefit from "platform" type funding, providing base level financial support in addition to project specific funding.

  8.3  The priority research tasks identified in this evidence, should receive due consideration in the development of any new UK Government initiatives.

July 2007

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