The UK has the best renewable resources in Europe, with potential to generate billions for the economy, which is why the Carbon Trust continues to fund exciting renewable
The UK is surrounded by a beautiful, rugged coastline, which is lashed by rough seas and pounded by strong winds. The waves and the tides are an amazing natural resource that could potentially be used to produce 20% of our electricity by 2050. Recent research from the Carbon Trust – a government-backed company that promotes low-carbon technology in the UK and helps organisations reduce their carbon intensity – shows that the UK could generate up to £70bn for the economy and almost 250,000 jobs in offshore wind and wave power alone.
Harnessing this marine energy and making sure the UK can profit from leading the world in the clean tech revolution is one of the challenges that the Carbon Trust is taking the lead on. Tom Delay, chief executive of the Carbon Trust, says: “We must prioritise and comprehensively back the technologies that offer the best chance of securing long-term carbon savings, jobs and revenue for Britain.”
Oliver Wragg, the wave and tidal development manager for the British Wind Energy Association, agrees: “We have some of best resources in Europe – we have 50% of the tidal resource and 35% of the wave resource in Europe – that is why we are a world leader in marine energy. We have also benefited from a big push in funding from the government.”
This funding has allowed the establishment of the New and Renewable Energy Centre in Blyth, Newcastle, a testing centre in Gosport on the south coast and the European Marine Energy Centre in Orkney, northern Scotland. However, says Wragg: “Developing new marine technology is expensive and needs substantial funding”.
To meet these costs and help stimulate research and development into marine technology, the government is inviting marine energy firms to bid for a share of a £22m fund. The Department for Energy and Climate Change says the Marine Renewables Proving Fund (MRPF) will “help marine projects get off the drawing board and into the water, taking them a vital step closer to full-scale commercial viability.”
The MRPF will be managed by the Carbon Trust, which is also running the Marine Energy Accelerator initiative. This programme aims to reduce the cost of marine (wave and tidal stream) energy technologies and to bring forward the time when marine energy becomes cost-competitive.
Stephen Wyatt, technology acceleration manager for wave and tidal energy at the Carbon Trust, says: “We recognise that wave and tidal energy is necessary to decarbonising the electricity grid, and this low-carbon energy also has important economic benefits, as marine energy has potential to be a significant export proposition for the UK.”
The Marine Energy Accelerator aims to help develop new marine energy devices, and overall more than £3m has been allocated to the project. Two companies that are working on cutting-edge devices have recently been chosen to receive support from the programme – Pelamis Wave Power and Marine Current Turbines (MCT). The Carbon Trust will help to reduce the costs associated with the installation, operation and maintenance of the devices they are developing.
“Wave energy is all about harnessing the power of wave fronts in our oceans and capturing energy that would otherwise crash on to our shores,” says Wyatt. The Pelamis wave power machine, which has received a grant of £250,000, is an electricity-generating “sea snake” that is moored offshore. The Carbon Trust is helping “to develop the technology that will help to deploy these devices more efficiently at their offshore sites,” says Wyatt.
Meanwhile, MCT has received £150,000 from the Carbon Trust to develop an innovative way to deploy the company’s pioneering tidal energy system. “When you are trying to harness the energy from fast-moving tidal currents, installing your device underwater is a very challenging business,” says Wyatt. The new technology developed by MCT involves a remotely operated undersea drilling platform, which will install foundation piles before the main turbine support structure is set up. This will enable smaller and less expensive support vessels to be used for the offshore works, reducing the costs of turbine installation.
Martin Wright, managing director of MCT, says: “The Carbon Trust’s support is highly valuable. Their participation in this project has enabled us to look at how we can install farms of our SeaGen tidal energy systems more cheaply and efficiently in the future, and underlines the commercial potential that exists for MCT’s pioneering tidal energy technology to be deployed in UK waters as well as overseas.”
Exporting British products such as these is vitally important, agrees Wragg: “We are world leaders in wave and tidal power, and there is a potential annual export revenue of £4.2bn in these devices by 2050.”
Wragg is keen to avoid a repetition of what happened with wind power in the late 1980s, when the UK produced some of the largest wind turbines, but the government withdrew funding and the supply chain moved to Denmark.
We can achieve these marine energy targets, he says, “but we need to be committed, positive and passionate”.
‘Sea snake’ to generate renewable wave power
Pelamis Wave Power is a marine energy company that has designed a cuttingedge device to generate renewable electricity from the waves. The offshore wave energy converter, or “sea snake” as it is affectionately known, is bright red, 180 metres long and moored many kilometres out to sea.
Beth Dickens is one of the senior engineers at Pelamis. She describes the sea snake as “a big, long articulated structure that looks like five, round, red train carriages, or tubes, joined together”. To put it very simply, she says, “as the structure rides over the waves, the machine bends and the movement in the joins between the tubes is used to generate electricity.”
The first prototype device was moored off Orkney, northern Scotland and the next three machines were built for the world’s first wave farm off the coast of Portugal. Pelamis is now back in Orkney and working on its latest project, with E.On, for deployment at the European Marine Energy Centre. There are other projects in the pipeline, says Dickens, “at various other sites around the world, and we want to start building bigger wave farms of 30-40 machines at one location with one connection to the electricity grid onshore”.
The Carbon Trust has supported development work at Pelamis Wave Power for a number of years. For the latest project, it is providing £250,000 to fund improvements to previously demonstrated installation systems and equipment. This support has been invaluable in moving the project forward and in funding research into one of the most complicated and costly parts of the programme – the offshore operations, says Dickens. Among other things, the Carbon Trust is investigating the possibility of using an innovative remotely operated vehicle (ROV ) that will help move the giant structures into position using remote control technology. As Dickens explains: “Installing and taking these machines off their moorings is quite a challenge because it is an expensive part of the operation and requires specific expertise”. The aim is to be able to install the machines in a wider range of weather conditions – particularly during the rougher seas in the winter, thereby reducing the overall cost of the energy generated.
The long-term strategy is to keep the machines at sea for months at a time and then take them off their moorings for routine maintenance. Dickens is enthusiastic about the future: “The possibilities are endless – there are lots of places where offshore wave power is advantageous and one of the most rewarding things for me is to see these machines, which started out as a design on paper, installed and working efficiently out in the ocean.”