Wave & Tidal Technology Symposium

Organised in Bristol, 13th July 2006, by the Renewable Energy Association (REA)

Report for Marinet by Max Wallis
This conference took a quite optimistic tone, coming in the wake of the government pro-nuke plus pro-alternatives energy review decision. By comparison with the Wave and Tidal Energy conference in Gateshead in February (www.bwea.com/marine), this REA conference had clear political, lobbying objectives and makes its papers freely available (website below). The hiatus in grid connection for large schemes (10-year queue in Scotland!) has led to some companies giving up on the UK and to a challenging question to the government – is the UK dropping wave energy despite the big lead in UK R&D, as happened for wind energy? The Renewables Obligation (RO) system was questioned, depending on ‘bands’ and failing off-shore wind energy. The Scottish Executive is proposing a short-term change to the RO (with “Scot Roc” certificates), while the Carbon Trust wants a wholesale change (Policy frameworks for renewables, July 2006, www.carbontrust.co.uk/Publications/CTC611.pdf ).

Spain and France are progressing renewables because their supply companies see it as part of their responsibility to develop innovative renewable technologies. In the UK, NPower Renewables has invested in wind, to the extent they can get grants and good prices for on-shore wind power; Électricité de France (EDF) have recently bought into the company Marine Current Turbines (MCT), projecting this as a good investment.

EDF’s Simon Merriweather spoke very optimistically on their tie up with MCT. Following the test in the Severn estuary, 1 km off Lynmouth, the commercial 1 MW prototype “SeaGen” is expected to supply power at ~ 9p/kWh (cf. 18p/kWh at Lynmouth) and an array of them scheduled for 2007-8 will supply at ~ 6p/kWh. He said EDF are “absolutely clear” they will get to 4p/kWh and plan from 2009 to be building commercial installations of over 50 MW wherever they can.

It’s interesting how different this is from the pessimistic economics given by the Carbon Trust’s review (Future Marine Energy January 2006, www.carbontrust.co.uk/publications/default.htm ) which gave current costs as 12-15p/kWh and predicted 6p/kWh would not be reached until 500-1500 MW had been installed. The Carbon Trust also gave a dubious figure for the tidal current resource (2800 MW), which Prof Stephen Salter (of Salter’s “duck”) said was ten times too low, based on his studies of currents through the Pentland Firth. This means the UK could get a third of our electricity from tidal currents, rather than the few percent the Carbon Trust gives), ie. several times more or somewhat less than the 5.4% given for the Severn Tidal Barrage. Evidently, tidal barrages which use only the rise and fall in tidal height, not the energy of the currents, are aimed at only a fraction of the tidal resource. Their power is also more intermittent (off/on) and does not fit with the decentralised power concept.

The Conservative Shadow Minister kicked off the conference with the message that nuclear energy is not their preferred option – the Tories will accept nuclear power only if “necessary for keeping the lights on”. They want to develop home-grown resources and they criticise past policies of support for lowest-cost technology for failing the “exciting opportunities”. Richard Yemm, the developer of Pelamis (serpent-like wave device of Ocean Power Delivery) declared “hallelujah!” over the Energy Review’s promise to bring back project funding “at long last”. OPD’s main project announced a year ago is in Portugal.

Peter Hain came along to declare that he remains a sceptic on nuclear power, saying the policy must not allow nuclear to crowd out renewables. He declared Northern Ireland will not have any nuclear power plants for two reasons – opposition from the Republic and his view as Secretary of State that new nuclear plants are not acceptable to the public “unless we are seen to be doing all we can on other energy measures”.

While devolution remains suspended in N. Ireland, Peter Hain described how his £60 M fund for renewable energy is boosting biomassbiomass The amount of living matter. This is therefore a different measure to numbers of organisms. So, for example, there is much more biomass in 1 elephant than there is in 1000 fleas and there may be more biomass in 100 large cod than you would find in 150 small (because of over fishing) cod., geothermal, marine energy and domestic microgeneration, backed by a training programme to create skills and a “Renewable Energy Installers Academy” (350 trained so far) to meet accredited standards. He spoke of both Wales and Ireland having abundant natural renewables, saying the Gwynt y Mor project for 250 wind turbines 9 miles off Llandudno would generate the equivalent of Wylfa’s nuclear reactors.

SeaGen tidal turbine


Peter Hain claimed credit for getting approval for the SeaGen tidal turbine in the Strangford Lough narrows – where currents are up to 4 m/s (8 knots), but suitably sheltered with low tidal rangetidal range The difference in height between high and low tide. Project approval was complex, as Alastair Davison described, due to the high degree of nature protection. They intend monitoring of cetaceans and reef communities, as well as of birds, and expect to remove the monopole-mounted turbine after a 2-5 year test of this first commercial prototype (picture left – www.bwea.com/marine/devices.html ). The Precautionary Principle has been criticised as preventing everything in Marine conservation areas (European Court of Justice judgement of 2004 on cockle harvesting in the Wadden Sea), but Alastair Davison said they had met it by including active monitoring with an adaptive management system.

The second tidal current device selected for USA support (by the Electric Power Research Institute) is Lunar Energy’s single 1 MW turbine in a large pipe duct. It has Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) funding and is now going for full-size tests at sea. www.lunarenergy.co.uk . The design has hydraulic gearing (no gear box) and Simon Meade showed how the central turbine housing plus controls is removable for maintenance. No foundations or mooring, just gravity will keep it in a bed carved out by high-pressure jets.

Other presentations covered decommissioning, grid connections and test facilities. EMEC (European Marine Energy Centre www.emec.org.uk ) who have a wave power test site in the Orkneys are adding a tidal test site further north and the Wave Hub (www.wavehub.co.uk ) is coming to north Cornwall. The DTI’s chief (power consents) Richard Mellish talked of the Marine Bill and Marine Spatial Planning, but came under fire for not getting going with SEA – strategic environmental assessment – for wave and tidal power, since SEA could locate favoured areas and reduce assessment needed for projects.

The conference papers are posted on the Renewable Energy Association website. The British Wind Association also has a marine energy website www.bwea.com/marine , which is a good place to start for a run-down of the leading tidal and wave projects.

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