Thursday 12 November 2015

I listen to the ocean

Tracey Emin is one of those artists for whom the term 'art wank'* seems entirely appropriate. For many years I did not get, or want to get, her work. She seemed to me a self-obsessed celebrity artist who was only interested in shock-value.

Wednesday 11 November 2015

EWTEC 2015 - a leisurely sail through the papers

There were so many talks in this year’s EWTEC that I found interesting, it was impossible to pick just a few. Here are highlights that I think will be of general interest.

Saturday 7 November 2015

WES winners

Wave energy Scotland recently announced the eight projects that won funding for the novel device call. So, just who are the people behind the winning teams, and how does their tech wiggle? Have any of the device developers that suffered from the recent crisis of investor confidence secured funding?

Brought to you by the wonders of Google, here is a quick summary (or speculation) of each of the winning projects. The first point of note is that over half the grants went to devices that could be described as attenuators.

Sunday 20 September 2015

Introducing: The Ocean Percolator

My recent research on the cost-drivers of wave energy (see cost-revenue conundrum) identified 3 desirable characteristics for structural efficiency:
  1. A primary interface combining heave with either surge or pitch.
  2. Gearing up from slow to fast motions as early in the power transfer process as possible.
  3. Minimising the ratios of mean to maximum loads, strokes and power.

Friday 17 July 2015

Energy storage - our salvation ?

 Professor Win Rampen’s inaugural lecture for the Chair in Energy Storage sums up the key energy challenges facing the world, and the UK in particular:
  • Baseload electricity is presently covered by nuclear and coal, which can’t come on and off quickly (see Supply graph from Gridwatch above).
  • The main job of balancing variations in daily demand and renewable supply (wind and solar), is done by gas. The contribution from hydro is relatively small.
  • Solar photovoltaics are on the rise. Over the last few decades prices have plummeted while efficiency has crept up. Recently new cheaper materials have had rapid efficiency improvements; these may soon overtake silicon PV. Cheap PV raises the question of how other forms of generation will be able to compete for finance.
  • Photovoltaics, which count as negative demand rather than supply, is highly variable: passing clouds cause sudden generation dips. Already there is so much solar that on sunny days there is a dip around noon (see Demand graph below).
  • Prices paid by the National Grid to generators can vary by a factor of three during one day due to this variability.
  • Demand-side management is one way to deal with variability: already big companies have agreements with the grid to switch off during peak demand. In the future we will use the internet to control household appliances.
  • We need to drop fossil fuels, but how can we provide the flexibility that gas provides, given that more renewables will require even more flexibility?

Wednesday 24 June 2015

Renewable UK W&T 2015 - Engineering requirements for cost effectiveness

How can we engineer cost effective wave power? This was the subject of two talks at this year's Renewable UK wave & tidal conference: Stephen Salter presented 'A thought experiment to identify the ideal wave energy system', while Peter Fraenkel presented 'Scaling up to reduce costs'. Peter's talk gave the design philosophy behind his latest design of tidal turbine; the principles are applicable to wave power.

Monday 8 June 2015

Saturday 11 April 2015

Knit your own waves

These Japanese style waves are an adaption of the miter technique. Keen wave-spotters will note that the waves are 'upside down': they would have a trochoidal shape if the pointy bit of each wave faced up rather than down, and if the stripes followed the 'surface'. Kudos to you if that made sense. Extra kudos to anyone who beats me to a knitted trochoidal wave!

Wednesday 11 March 2015

Renewable UK W&T 2015 - Routes to market

The main question I wanted answered at the 2015 Renewable UK's Wave & Tidal Conference was 'what routes to market are available to wave energy?'. For this reason I noted not only the tenor of political support for wave energy, but also progress in the tidal sector. Throughout the conference, there were plentiful references to the recent market failure, with growing consensus about the sticking points. There was also lively debate about alternative market models that might overcome these barriers to commercialisation.

Monday 2 March 2015

Renewable UK W&T 2015 - Wave Energy Scotland

The most interesting news from last week's Renewable UK wave and tidal conference was undoubtedly the first details about Wave Energy Scotland.

Tuesday 3 February 2015

Barriers posed by the investment environment

There has been a reluctance to put concerns about systemic barriers to wave energy into writing. Even the most bold writing on this topic, by Jochem Weber, Richard Yemm, Andrew Garrad, and the ORE Catapult, has been guarded, under-emphasising any actions of device developers and investors which could have hindered the development progress. I believe that what is holding back an open discussion of what has gone wrong with wave energy in the last decade, is a concern about 'poisoning the waters'. In particular, there are concerns about blame, a negative impact on the industry by chipping away at the collective confidence required to get a critical mass of support, and a negative impact on individual device developers who depend on this collective confidence.

This post sets out my opinions about the systemic barriers that have hampered wave energy. I have decided to break with the tradition of under-emphasising key problems because I believe the concerns about poisoning the waters are misplaced: I hope to show that the waters are already poisoned, and the source was a poisoned chalice.

Friday 23 January 2015

January Sails

Every January, the Scottish National Gallery displays some Turner watercolours in a dimly lit room. The collection includes the impressive 'Bell Rock Lighthouse' (1819). As a painting, it is both beautiful and functional. It is beautiful because it is. It is functional because, as the commission for the front cover of a book about Stevenson's lighthouse, it shows dramatically the purpose of the lighthouse, its engineering challenges, and even a hint at how the design addresses the challenges.

Thursday 15 January 2015

In a nutshell: Watershed Catapult report

I believe that in the future we will look back on the latest (27 November 2014) Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult report, 'Financing Solutions for Wave and Tidal Energy', as a watershed. It clearly captures the financing problems facing wave and tidal. Although it does not say so directly, it seems that the implied inescapable conclusion is: wave energy is not presently commercialisable, and tidal energy will follow unless the first round of tidal arrays meet their promises. The report is a watershed in that the views expressed are probably shared by decision makers in both industry and government; indeed the report aims to reflect these views; and it is likely that such views have been the main reason that 4 leading marine energy developers were shed (bad pun intended) by their supporters in late November 2014. 

Friday 9 January 2015

Registration now open for Wave & Tidal 2015

Registration is now open for the 2015 RenewableUK Wave & Tidal conference and exhibition. Early bird discount ends 12 Jan.

I like this conference because it is intimate enough for people to speak their minds; it gets under the skin of real issues. The interesting stuff comes out in the question&answer and panel sessions. In the 2013 session, the troubles presently facing wave energy were already quite clear. Going back over my notes, I recalled that 'One panelist warned that pushing technology development too fast could lead to failure, and that one highly publicised failure could stall the entire marine renewables industry.' With Edinburgh at the epicentre of recent shocks to the industry, I'm hoping that this year's session will have some gritty discussions about actions that need to be taken to ensure the UK maintains its lead in wave and tidal development.

Wednesday 7 January 2015

Body blow for wave power


'For many of us who have been employed in this sector and suffered its ups and down over the past few years, this inevitable conclusion has been all too obvious.'

Peter Arnold, having worked at 4 different wave power start-ups (C-wave, Orecon, Wavebob and AWS), is in a good position to comment on the systemic problems facing the UK wave power industry. In a recent blog post, he describes how the loss of the knowledge and experience accumulated by the workforce would come as a blow to wave power: