What is the Problem with Wave Power?
Jan 26 2017
A new technology aiming to gain a foothold in the British renewable energy market has suffered a major setback, as a report from the Energy Technologies Institute (ETI) has claimed that wave power is 10 times more expensive than other forms of clean energy generation.
The news comes in the wake of two pilot trials at Orkney in Scotland and Cornwall in England, which the ETI concluded were too inefficient to have a significant bearing on UK energy even if costs were brought down.
A burgeoning technology
Not to be confused with tidal power, wave power uses the kinetic power of individual waves to generate power (rather than the larger pull of the tides as a whole). The concept is a relatively recent one, with firms first beginning to study the technology in the last decade. At the time, it was heralded as potentially capable of generating 10% of the UK’s energy needs.
However, the process has been hit with a serious of setbacks, with several companies being forced to fold and others suffering innumerable delays. Now, the industry has been dealt a significant further blow after the ETI called it far too expensive in comparison to similar technologies.
“On wave energy our view is that even with aggressive cost reduction and innovation activities, current attenuator wave energy technologies are highly unlikely to meet the ETI/UK Energy Research Centre marine energy roadmap targets, and are therefore unlikely to make a significant contribution to the UK energy system in the coming decades,” said the research body.
Tidal power preferred
Instead, the ETI recommended that companies and investors should redirect their efforts to tidal power.
Last year, it was posited that the UK could have the world's first tidal power station in Swansea, Wales, where it could provide as much as 11% of the small nation’s power needs. The company behind the project, Tidal Lagoon Power (TLP), are hoping to unveil similar facilities in Colwyn Bay, Cardiff, Newport, Bridgwater Bay and Cumbria with a total reduction of 136 megatonnes in carbon emissions for the UK.
Encouraged by the hitherto success of the Swansea plant, the ETI have recommended the government invest in the MeyGen Scheme being pioneered by Atlantis Resources, which aims to expand from four turbines to 269 and generate even more power than that being created in Wales.
The case for the defence
However, the companies involved in the wave power industry haven’t taken the ETI’s judgements lying down. The Finnish outfit Fortum pointed out the injustice of comparing a burgeoning technology which is still very much at the research stage to fully-fledged ones (like wind and solar) and indicated there was massive scope for costs to fall over time.
“Wave power is still under research, development and piloting phase throughout the world compared to for example solar and wind technologies which are rapidly maturing and becoming more market-based,” the company said in a statement. “It is important to understand that the development of new competitive energy technologies takes time.”
Meanwhile, the MD at UK-based firm Seatricity Andy Bristow laughed off suggestions that the technology was 10 times more expensive and cast aspersions on the government’s recent rollbacks on the renewable sector.
“We’re confident in our technology but we’re less confident in the UK government’s commitment to renewables. We’re finding it difficult at the moment because of a malaise that seems to have infected the marine renewables sector,” Bristow said. “We think it’s a shame, because ultimately it’s a no-brainer: it’s clean, it’s green and it has potential to be very cost effective.”
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