Friday, 20 May 2016

All Energy 2016

All Energy was much diminished in size this year. However, it was not diminished in spirit - I sensed projects were progressing, and that the marine energy industry had adjusted to the slower pace. The traditional big vs small debate seems to have been side-lined by the emerging trend for a dual track development process: there are projects aimed at utility-scale markets, as well as those aimed at niche markets.

Dual track development

Gareth Davies (Aquatera) introduced the ‘South East Asian Marine Energy Centre’ that he is helping set up in Indonesia. Built into the roadmap is a twin track approach. The centre will support both diesel replacement and grid connected technologies.

Tim Sawyer described Carnegie Wave’s dual market approach. The recently completed Perth project  tested a dual purpose desalination/electricity system. While this could be used in remote markets, it was also a milestone to development of the ‘CETO 6’ 1MW device, which generates electricity on board. There are projects underway for CETO 6 arrays in Australia and at Wavehub. At the same time, they are investigating island markets, and have subsiduaries in Chile and Mauritius. 

In tidal energy the most visible companies are targeting utility-scale markets. However, there are others that are successfully developing niche markets.

Tim Cornelius (MeyGen) said there is ‘a race to deliver full scale tidal’. With the cables just laid, MeyGen is chasing the competition in France. Last year saw the installation of the first 0.5MW turbine of Open-Hydro’s EDF project, and the grid-connection of Sabella’s first 1MW tidal turbine at North Ushant. The plans for an interconnector between Alderney and the markets for its tidal resource, France and England, demonstrate the utility-scale aspirations of the French. Nevertheless, even though the main focus is on large unit sizes, there is a funding call out now for run of river turbines, which are considered a ‘niche market’ due to the limited size of individual projects.

Tocardo is a Dutch company following a ‘step by step’ development route. They have two products aimed at niche markets: a run of river turbine, and a tidal turbine. They have been testing a prototype mounted on a sluice gate in a Dutch seawall continuously for 8 years. Last year this was joined by 3 improved turbines that will be used to test array interactions, and they also installed 5 larger turbines (totalling 1.25MW) on a storm surge barrier. They plan to install more turbines on Dutch sluicegates, but are also taking steps towards utility-scale technology. For example, they are planning a demonstration array at EMEC, and they did a one year trial of a floating support structure for a single turbine. The next step will be twin turbines under one float, and in the future they plan a slack-moored, U-shaped, semi-submerged, support structure for four turbines (a different design, but similar specifications as SuperTideGen). It has been designed to be installed with a multiCAT vessel, and so that the control cabinets remain above the waterline.

Vocal concern about all our eggs in one big basket

In the quickfire sessions, Gareth Davies (Aquatera) gave his views on the good, the bad, and the ugly of marine energy. His bad and ugly list included the proposition that a commercial device should be at least 1MW, the assumption that pilot plants would be funded by utilities, lack of grid capacity in Orkney, the funding mechanism involving venture capital, and the Crown Estate leasing rounds, where 30 applicants were rejected and many leases went to just one company which subsequently was not able to develop them. However, some good has come from this experience; proving the physics of power capture; that it wasn’t the technology at fault, but the finance and components. It also helped us appreciate that we should be taking ‘baby steps’ towards the 1MW unit, and what the real markets were: diesel replacement rather than utilities.

During the questions section of the global snapshot session, Hans van Breugel (Tocardo) asked Vincent Cliquet (Innosea) for clarification of his announcement that France would invest €300m in two ports for marine renewables. Vincent confirmed that this would cover quayside extensions, seabed reinforcement to accommodate jack-up barges, cranes and storage. Hans responded by raising a concern: ‘We must look to the lessons learnt from wind and wave: governments want us to develop too big, too fast. They expect us to be competitive with offshore wind in 3 years, and if that doesn’t happen there is no industry. Please allow us to go through a learning curve.

In the Wave & Tidal session on economics, Neil Kermode (EMEC) gave a talk entitled ‘Designing for a short life: build it cheap, fail fast and learn quickly’. He thought the industry had inadvertently generated higher development costs by overpromising, resulting in less progress. For example, an integrated monitoring project took so long to complete that the turbine had already been decommissioned by the time it was finished. As EMEC’s experience suggests that 80% of delays were due to 20% of the possible causes, development costs could be reduced by designing first arrays for a shorter lifetime.

Peter Fraenkel made the case for unit sizes of 4MW and above, arguing that the smaller proportion of balance of plant costs guarantee a profit margin big enough to cover unexpected delays or cost over-runs. This is required to make a strong investment case. I asked Peter and Neil how they reconciled Peter’s claim that SuperTideGen was at TRL 9 and needed no scaled prototype tests, with Neil’s claim that it was important to identify the 80% of common faults quickly on a prototype with a short life:
Peter: Small turbines are not useful for identifying problems unique to MW sized machines. 
Neil: We are still let down by small items; we haven't found all the snags we need to design out. If we go too big we can't afford to learn these lessons. 
Peter: There is a danger in overegging the difficulties. SuperTideGen could incorporate the experience of MW scale power plants and catamarans – there are no fundamentals that needed to be solved.   
Neil: Didn’t SeaGen end up with a blade snap and a gearbox problem?   
Peter: That was our ‘Chernobyl moment’ – it was an unforeseen problem with the control system; a power cut had resulted in one control system working in opposition to another.   
Neil: I’m not sniping at SeaGen in particular; I just wanted to show that even in the best designs there are faults that need to be washed out.

Financial Engineering

  • Hans van Breugel (Tocardo) noted that utilities had not been interested in funding prototypes, and that development had required ‘financial engineering’ (forming an energy cooperative).
  • Tim Cornelius (Atlantis) described the introduction of financial incentives aligned to reward success. These were likened to the whaling industry, where all partners shared in the profits, allowing the decisions to be made by the captain and crew. He thought utilities should be left to do what they do best, which is not speculative, but long term, development.
  • The viability of the niche market route depends on the market size. Neil Ferguson (Scottish Enterprise) presented highlights from a recently commissioned work by Aquatera and Caelulum. The report presents a country by country market review, and estimates that there are niche markets totalling tens of billions, in areas such as oil and gas, desalination, tourism and mining.
  • Tim Baker (Black&Veatch) said that the barriers to tidal lagoons were mainly financial; there was an accountancy challenge in dealing with a 120yr civil asset.
  • Gareth Davies (Orkney Renewable Energy forum) attributed Orkney’s success at raising £150m from an island of 20 000 people (council and private investors) to the Orkney Renewable Energy forum, and community and supply chain commitment. He noted that 10% of households owned renewable generation. 
  • In response to an audience question about why most funding is awarded to local companies, Gareth Davies answered that one of the major reasons for government support was economic development. Supporting the local supply chain is part of the package that marine energy will have to supply. Hans van Breugel said that plans for Torcado projects abroad had 60% local content, adding that it did not make sense to ship foundations. Tim Cornelius attributed 43% of Meygen costs to the UK supply chain, and added that domestic content would help a technology be championed at community level.

Funding news

The global snapshot session included funding news from three countries: 

  • Scotland: Tim Hurst (WES) ran through Wave Energy Scotland’s 30 active projects, which are provided with 100% funding via pre-commercial procurement. He announced a budget of £10m for the 16/17 financial year. There were two more calls planned for this year: one on control, and another on structures and materials.
  • Ireland: Brendan Cahill (SEAI) said 15 projects were provided with matched-funding last year. This included the testing of the Ocean Energy buoy at the US Navy test site. The Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland is considering the option of pre-commercial procurement. Calls were open for matched-funding of prototype development. Apple has put forward €1m for prototype testing of wave energy in Galway with view to using wave power for a new data centre. 
  • France: Vincent Cliquet (Innosea) said France aimed to install 100MW of marine renewables by 2023. There are current calls on three topics, which provide matched-funding for: innovative wave and tidal prototypes, enabling technologies (anchors, cables, floating structures, PTO and installation technologies), and demonstration of run of river turbines. 

Supporting technology

  • OptaSense presented some very impressive results from their EMEC trial (see diagrams above). They are able to examine scattering along every 10m of an existing fibre-optic cable. This can be used to track waves, tides, the passing of ships, and areas of cable damage or unburial. 
  • During the question session of Wave&Tidal 6, Peter Fraenkel mentioned that they had used embedded fibre optic cables to give strain measurements along tidal rotor blades. 
  • Vicky Coy (Catapult) reported on a collaboration between EMEC and Catapult on component reliability. The report is due soon and will include a failure taxonomy and a checklist to help developers specify components.
  • Andy Hunt (Sustainable Marine Energy) described the advantages of their rock-drilled mooring, compared to conventional gravity base anchors. The advantages were in terms of the anchor costs (e.g. a 300kg steel anchor for £15 000 vs an 80 tonne concrete gravity anchor for £50 000), vessel costs (£5k per day for a multicat vs £15-£30k a day for a barge), installation time, and carbon footprint (1t vs 7500t per anchor).
  • Dan Petcovic (Corpower) mentioned that Corpower’s PTO test rig would become EMEC infrastructure for future developers. Tim Sawyer announced that Carnegie have bought Aquamarine’s PTO test rig.
  • Henry Jeffrey (OES) announced that the OES annual report for 2015 is available for download. This includes updates on the status of test sites, a new web-based GIS tool (see screenshot below), a report on a workshop about design for reliability, a report on cost of energy assessment, and status reports from each country.

Obligatory upnote to end with

Jacopo Moccia (Ocean Energy Europe) told us that the EU spends the equivalent of the GDP of Slovakia on subsidies for nuclear and fossil fuels, in order to spend the GDP of Belgium on imports of energy products (53% of energy imported). This puts the EU in a precarious position. We can’t assume that our quotas for meeting climate change obligations can be filled with existing renewables. This is the reason why Brussels has continued to support marine energy with research and demonstration grants.

Image credits:

‘Lifeboat’ by Nerine Martini; photo by badjonni

Results from the OtpaSense trials at EMEC, courtesy of OtpaSense

Screenshot of the OES web GIS from:


  1. CORRECTIONS: The following changes have been made after discussions with the speakers, for which I am very grateful:
    * The original summary of Peter Fraenkel's talk reported he had stated that for tidal turbines smaller than 4MW, there was a higher risk of not returning a profit. This did not convey his main point, which was that his calculations showed the unit sizes presently being installed (~1MW) were guaranteed not to yield a profit.
    * Vincent Cliquet confirmed a typo on his presentation - the Open Hydro turbine installed at Paimpol was 0.5MW rather than 5MW. This was helpfully spotted by another of the speakers with whom I was corresponding.
    * Andrew Hunt pointed out that a set of concrete gravity anchors for a typical tidal turbine has a carbon footprint of 30 000 tonnes, rather than 30 tonnes. Bizarrely, I had heard him say this - but the number was so unbelievably large that I misinterpretted this as a slip of tongue - there ought to be a word for this particular type of 'mishearing'! 8¬)

  2. Presentations now available: