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Down on wave and tidal farms

By Dave Elliott

In my last post I looked at how solar farms were being constrained in the UK. But they are not alone. Marine renewables are also facing problems. Tragically, pioneering wave energy company Pelamis has gone into administration, after failing to secure development funding. And Siemens is to sell off Marine Current Turbines (MCT), the pioneering UK tidal company it look over in 2012, due to the slow pace of orders. Aquamarine Power, who have developed the Oyster inshore wave device, is also to “significantly downsize” its business.

At last years annual Tidal Summit, Energy Secretary Ed Davey said that ‘despite Government support – for instance through the Marine Energy Array Demonstrator Fund – it remains difficult to attract risk averse funders. We have seen planned array projects which have been shelved or pushed to the right’. It’s not quite clear what he meant there: MCTs Skerries tidal farm project, off Anglesey, lost a £10m Marine Energy Array Demonstration Fund grant last June. But it was clear that he was unhappy with ‘the sad news about Pelamis Wave Power filing for administration’ which he said  ‘shows that risk aversion has real, and potentially devastating, effects on companies, their employees and families. This is always hugely disappointing for all concerned – but we need to secure all the lessons and know-how the fantastic team at Pelamis developed’. He was  ‘equally disappointed about Siemens’ decision not to take forward MCT. Having visited MCT myself, I had felt that the deployment of more of their tidal stream devices was just a matter of time. MCT had gathered the most operational experience of tidal stream in the whole industry. So I sincerely hope Siemens will do their utmost to ensure that MCT’s, expertise and know-how are appropriately managed and transferred so that they can continue to benefit this industry’. But these developments were ‘stark reminders of how fragile and young the industry is’. Well, the Skerries project cut didn’t help…

Looking to the future, he said ‘While there are no bids from the tidal industry in the current (CfD) allocation round, I’m keen to see future bids. That’s why I ring-fenced a protected allocation of contracts worth 100MW up to 2019, for the industry. This is guaranteed if people come forward. And it’s not a limit or cap! And we continue to believe that post-2020 marine energy will have a much bigger role to play in helping us meet our low-carbon ambition.https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/address-to-the-tidal-energy-summit

The 100MW is for wave and tidal projects, but will any bids be forthcoming? When only one project (MCTs 1.2MW SeaGen) got funding under the more lucrative RO? The technology seems fine, with MCT and others developing successful devices, but the financial support side doesn’t look very promising. There are some exceptions: for example the 400MW Meygen tidal stream project in Pentland Firth has got £10m from DECC for the 6MW 1st stage using Atlantis/AHH units. www.renewableuk.com/en/news/press-releases.cfm/world-s-largest-tidal-energy-project-to-be-built-in-the-uk    And Tidal Energy Ltd are installing a 400kW 150 tonne ERDF backed demonstration prototype of their Delta Stream sea-bed mounted turbine in Ramsey Sound, Pemrokeshire, for a 1 year trial. If all goes well, a 10MW tidal farm, with up to 9 turbines is planned off St Davids Head:  www.tidalenergyltd.com    But the risk is that, without more, we might miss out on one area where the UK has had a technical lead: MCT, Aquamarine and Pelamis have been the leaders in their respective fields, but, as the Mygen/Atlantis project shows, developers from around the world are moving in to UK sites and there are national programmes and projects in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, France, Japan, S.Korea, the USA and elsewhere. For example Irish company Open Hydro’s project in France has just taken a step forward: http://www.openhydro.com/news/031214.html Unsurprisingly, there have been recriminations over the fate of the Scottish projects: www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-scotland-business-30400411 and http://gu.com/p/443vq

A recent IRENA Ocean energy report noted that ‘UK government aspirations in 2010 for 1-2  GW of marine energy by 2020 were downgraded to 200-300 MW the following year. More recently the emerging industry consensus appears to be that a more realistic figure of approx. 150 MW in the UK by 2020 is to be expected.’ Although much more (GWs) later.Lets hope so. At present costs are high. The Marine Energy Technology Road map produced by the UK Energy Research Centre and the Energy Technologies Institute recommends that to move ahead successfully, levelised cost reductions from 20-50p/kWh today to 10-20p/kWh be targeted by 2020 and 5-8p/kWh by 2050. It says a target energy cost of 8-10p/kWh for array-scale schemes must be delivered by the mid-2020s to set ‘a trajectory towards significant marine energy deployment’ in the UK by 2050.

That seems credible. Indeed some say they can do that faster. Certainly wave and tidal projects are sometimes seen as following the same pattern as wind did- initially small then expanding with costs falling, but 20 years later.That’s probably more likely for tidal stream systems than wave energy devices, given that harvesting energy from wave motion in the often turbulent interface between sea and air is much harder than extracting energy from the smooth regular undersea tidal flows. Tidal lagoons may be even easier: the 240MW project proposed for off Swansea has been backed with £100m from the Prudential, which should give it a head start. And it may get a CfD, and perhaps also a loan guarantee under the Governments infrastructure support programme: http://www.renewableenergyworld.com/rea/news/article/2014/05/harnessing-the-power-of-the-tides?

So there may be some movement. But as can be seen, marine renewables have a long way to go before they can match where UK wind is now, at over 11GW on-land and offshore, and the overall UK wave and tidal resource is much smaller than that for wind. Wind is also likely to remain much cheaper for some time: wave and tidal stream projects are being offered a flat rate of 30.5p/kWh under the CfD from now up to 2018/19, more than twice the price offered for offshore wind, which falls to 14p/kWh by 2017/8, and over three times more than the 9.5p/kWh offered to on-land wind now, which falls to 9p from 2017. I will look at wind power in my next post: it does look likely to be the overall winner. Although PV solar is coming up fast behind. As I noted in my last post, a new report claims that solar PV could be competitive without subsidies in the UK as soon as 2020…

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