An air of slight despondency seemed to pervade the Renewable Energy Association's Wind & Tidal Technology Symposium (WATTS) 2007 at Cowes, Isle of Wight in September. Delegates were dismayed that not more has happened to harness this abundant source of renewable energy, especially in the UK which is particularly resource rich. This was due, it was held, to shortcomings in Government policy, lack of seed funding, the prevailing investment pull of wind, and an evident Government pre-occupation with nuclear energy.
The drive for supportive policy
Indeed, much of the symposium was about expressing policy concerns and future aspirations, rather than an exposition of technology. And not even the palatial surroundings of Northwood House, Cowes, on a glorious late-summer's day could fully offset the downbeat atmosphere.
Sue Kearns, head of the Renewable Energy Scottish Executive, had a good try however, citing Scotland's £30m support for wave and tidal power, including its EMEC, Orkney, facility where several technologies are now being further developed and evaluated. Long-term support for renewables, said Kearns, came in the form of Renewable Obligations Scotland (though there was a feeling that Feed-in-Tariffs – FiTs – would be preferable).
In a later Q&A, one delegate questioned the level of Scotland's support given its good fortune in having a quarter of Europe's entire marine renewable energy resource, with a potential of 2 GW of generation by 2020.
Greater scorn was reserved for Westminster, though, and the UK Government's equivocal stance on wind and tidal technology (WATT). Professor Catherine Mitchell of Exeter University thought that the UK had, on present trends, little chance of playing its full part in meeting Europe's ambitious, but necessary, targets for carbon reduction and energy saving. She thought that Britain was about 1% below its obligations already (and was cross that the country's renewable heat uptake was actually falling rather than increasing).
The country was also likely, the professor thought, to fall short of the targets, themselves not ambitious, set out in the Government's 2007 Energy White Paper.
Stephanie Merry, outlining marine initiatives in Wales, pointed out that global marine energy resources were theoretically equal to all of the world's energy consumption in the year 2000. Practically, renewable resources around the UK could satisfy a sixth of that country's energy requirement – the UK and France between them have 80% of Europe's tidal resource for example. Merry believed that the total 2.5 MW provided by devices in the water now, should be multiplied 1000-fold in 12 years if the country is serious about carbon-free energy. Scale could range from micro-generation – small DIY turbines, turbines on buoys, bridges etc. – through mid-scale energy installations for waterfront developments; to full tidal installations such as the Severn Barrage. The UK would need to exploit renewable energy at all three scales, said Merry, and there was a long way to go.
Ron Loveland for the Welsh Assembly outlined the country's WATT achievements to date, and mentioned the Port Dinorwic pumped storage facility, which is capable of ramping up from zero to 2 GW in only 8 seconds, and the UK's first commercial offshore wind farm at North Hoyle.
Eric Sweeney of the Irish Maritime Institute spoke of a growing marine technology focus in Ireland, and a target of 500 MW generated from ocean energy by 2020.
Anna Gigantino, head of Ocean Energy at the European Union's Directorate General, Energy and Transport (DG TREN), said that the EU has provided €40 million since 1995 for marine energy, as though something under €3.3 m per year was more than a drop in the ocean (sic).
However, she did invite applications for research grants and loans under EU Framework 7, covering the period 2007-2013. Sean O'Neil from the Ocean Renewable Energy Commission (OREC) in the USA, took the view that the situation in America is worse than in the UK and Europe, with the flawed consent-permitting process being the greatest barrier to progress. OREC was formed four years ago to bring together interests to help drive change. O'Neill did see signs of hope in growing support for renewable energy though, both at State level and in Washington.
David Fryer from Isle of Wight consultancy MTMC (a sponsor of WATTS 2007) suggested that following the lead of the oil sector, the industry could help itself through joint industry projects (JIPs). JIPs typically involve several companies, possibly including competitors, coming together to find solutions to common problems.
Hard technologies discussed ranged from small-scale systems, to the major tidal barrage on the River Rance in France. Outlining experience with this four-decade old facility, Cyrille Perier of EDF France said that the opening of the world's “largest marine renewable energy facility” came about only after 20 years of study and five years of construction.
Two dozen 10 MW hydro-electric generators exploiting the 13.5 m tidal range in the Rance Estuary provide enough clean electricity to power a town of 230,000 people. The scheme works well, and the associated large inland lake has created, according to Perrier, a rich and diverse habitat for wildlife (Severn Barrage interests please note).
Max Carcas for Pelamis Ltd (formerly Ocean Power Delivery) told delegates that Pelamis machines in Orkney and Portugal are now generating up to 750 kW between them. The three machines in Portugal (see image on page 29) are a more advanced model that can operate in significant wave heights of up to 2.5 m. All are now fully in place, complete with connections, sub-stations etc, and providing power through Utility EnerSys.
Carcas' main theme, though, was that more action needs to be taken by Government if the UK is to benefit from the presence of enough renewable energy round its coasts to meet the country's power needs three times over.
Peter Fraenkel of Marine Current Turbines Ltd (MCT) spoke of current efforts to scale up MCT's SeaGen technology (pictured above), since devices need to be 1 MW-plus to be viable. Fraenkel had great hopes for the 1.2 MW SeaGen device going into Strangford Lock, Northern Ireland.
But he cautioned against an expectation of quick results from marine renewable energy, reminding delegates that it took 25 years for the wind energy sector to progress from early diverse small windmill designs to today's standard horizontal-axis solutions – in multi-MW sizes. A new twin-rotor SeaGen has good potential in high-energy sites and could deliver 10 MW at costs “not a million miles” from those now pertaining to offshore wind, declared Fraenkel.
The topic of grid connection was aired by George Gibberd, Tidal Generation Ltd, and Paul Birkinshaw of Econnect. Pointing to typical £150,000 to £250,000 per MW costs to connect offshore wind, they indicated that similar levels of cost – greater in strong tidal areas – could be expected for marine renewable installations.
Hans Sorensen, director of Wave Dragon, reported that, with over four years of experience with a prototype off the north west Denmark, it seems that the Wave Dragon devices can produce up to 20% more power than was first expected. Consent was awaited, he said, for an installation off Milford Haven.
Alan Owen from Robert Gordon University gave details of Sea Snail, a proposed structure that uses hydrodynamic forces to keep marine renewable energy installations in position over the seabed, with consequent savings in construction, seabed disturbance and craneage.
Chris Jenner from the Renewable RPS Group failed to cheer any would-be developers present by listing acts, regulations and licensing requirements they will have to contend with in seeking consents. Southampton University's Dr Steve Turnock advocated keeping electromechanical devices simple, if they are to endure the highly aggressive marine environment, even at the expense of sacrificing the “last point or two” of efficiency.
Nick Kitson of ABP Marine Environmental Research Ltd referred to a forthcoming publication – Guidelines for Marine Renewables – that would bring much of the information that is currently scattered around into a unified single source constituting a useful reference for all stakeholders.
Martin Wright, the REA's able and trenchant chairman for a substantial part of the day, implied in his closing remarks that quality of vision may be somewhat lacking in policy circles at present and asked rhetorically, “judging by what is being done at present, do we truly believe that climate change is a real threat?”
About the Author:
George Marsh is technology correspondent for renewable energy focus.