World's first wave energy farm in uncharted waters

In today's Guardian there is an article on the Aguçadoura wave farm in Portugal. This has been billed as the world's first offshore wave farm, and consists of 3 Pelamis wave energy devices. However, the project has had a number of teething problems. At present all three devices have been towed ashore for repairs, although this would probably be expected with such a new and innovative scheme.

However, there has been another setback for the project in recent days. The parent company of the Portuguese utility which owns the wave farm has gone into administration due to lack of credit, linked directly to the credit crunch. Many of the assests of the company, including the Aguçadoura wave farm, are now up for sale. However, until the project has been sold, the repairs on the devices can not be carried out which leads to a Catch 22 as it is unlikely that there will be much interest in a new technology that currently needs repairs, especially in the current economic climate.

As such I feel that there should be some sort of intervention, possibly by the gorvernments of Portugal, UK or the EU to allow repairs to be carried out on the devices and get them back in the water as soon as possible to demonstrate the economics of such devices. This is especially important for the UK as Pelamis is a UK based company and if the device is proven to be successful then Pelamis could be a major international company providing loads of jobs within the UK. Whilst the lack of progress on the Aguçadoura wave farm will not be fatal for the Pelamis device as there are other wave farms planned using this device, it will prove to be a major setback. This is why I would urge the government to see if there are any simple measures which they can do (finanical or otherwise) which will prove to be a cost effective way of getting the Aguçadoura wave farm back into action, and once again demonstrating the Pelamis wave device.

Related posts: More on wave energy

Solar photovoltaic grants stopped

I read today's Guardian with absolute despair. Up until recently it was possible for public buildings, such as schools, hospitals and museums to apply to the Department of Energy and Climate Change for grants to help cover part of the cost of the installation of renewable technologies. There was a funding of £50,000,000 for this, and it was split up into the various different technologies. However, recently the last of the money for solar photovoltaic systems was used up, and there will be no more funding until at least the summer.

This is even more amazing as the article goes on to say that there is excess money which was supposed to be used for other renewable technologies, but is unlikely to due to lack of demand.

This seems like madness to me, as one of the key goals of providing funding for grants is to improve the take-up of renewable schemes, thus providing jobs and hopefully leading to better efficiencies with the supply of these technologies, leading to lower costs to the consumer. However, as the grant supply has run out is likely that there will be a dramatic reduction in the installation of photovoltaic schemes, both because many schemes will now be classed as unviable whereas with a grant they were, and even those that are viable without a grant may be delayed until there is once a again more support. This will lead to a lot less demand for photovoltaic systems, and as a result many companies which deal with the supply of such technologies will need to reduce in size to survive, most likely through redundancies, which is the last thing that is needed in a recession. This will also likely to lead to a boom and bust cycle, as when the next round of financial support is provided there will be a lot of pent up demand, leading to a great need for companies to expand rapidly. In this rapid expansion process there is a chance of less reputable companies and individuals entering the business, which is damaging for the whole industry.

For these reasons, I personally feel that it is madness to stop the grants. Considering how much has been spent bailing out other industries, the required money needed to continue the grants until the summer is relatively nothing, and it will help to keep the green jobs revolution which politicians like to talk so much about going.

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Energy storage

I read with interest the other day about plans in northern Ireland for a relatively unique way of energy storage, and the first of it's kind within the UK. The plan would be to use cheap electricity to pump air into underground caverns. Then, when the electricity price increases, release this compress air through generators to produce electricity. In particular this will be useful as it will provide a good way of matching up electricity with electricity demand, which of course is one of the biggest problems with most forms of renewable electricity generation. This is not completely unproven technology, as there are also schemes in Germany and America, and so presumably there is less risk.

I also see another potential economic benefit of such energy storage schemes - as the energy is generally stored at peak output this means there will be less need for expensive grid works. For example, if a wind farm would normally produce a peak output of 30MW, and do so for a third of the time and for the other two thirds of the time under a conventional scheme where all eletricity is pumped straight into the grid, the local grid will need to be able to cope with 30MW of extra generation. However, if an energy storage scheme is used, the output could be changed to 10MW all of the time, meaning less has to be spent on grid re-inforcement and there will be greater predictability in production, meaning less need for back-up generators.

The only issue will be whether such storage schemes will qualify for ROCs, and if so at what rate.

Wave Energy

At the present time UK companies are arguably world leaders in wave energy conversion technologies. These include companies such as Pelamis. However, it is clear that in terms of offshore facilities there is a risk that the UK will be left behind. The European Marine Energy Centre is based off of the coast of Scotland, and was and still is at the forefront of wave energy device testing. However this is most suited for prototype devices, and now many of these devices are past this and on to the demonstration or commercial stages.

There have been plans for a while to give the UK the advantage at the next phase of the development process by setting up a project known as Wave Hub off of the Cornish coast which would be a site suited for the demonstration of commercial scale devices. However, this has been delayed several times, and as a result other similar schemes elsewhere in the world are catching up fast.

This may not appear to be a big problem, but there is the risk that many of these UK based companies will relocate to where the assistance given to them is more suitable, such as Portugal where the government has provided enough assistance to allow commercial wave farms to be operational. This will result in many jobs within the industry going abroad, and should the wave industry grow to be as big as the wind industry the number of jobs could be in the tens of thousands. Thus the UK is not grasping the opportunity to create a new industry, unlike what Denmark did with the wind industry 20 years ago - and that led to Vestas being the world leader in wind turbine manufacture.

However, the UK wave energy industry could be assisted in three ways. Firstly there needs to be funding released immediately for not only Wave Hub but further similar schemes around the UK coastline. Secondly, there needs to be improvements to the planning regulations to allow wave farms to be built easier. Finally, the price paid for electricity should be increased. Ideally this should be done with a tariff mechanism with a price per unit for electricity produced to be guaranteed for the lifetime of the project to reduce investment risk. However, it is more likely that the UK government will prefer to continue with the renewables obligation system, and as such there should be an increased number of ROCs given per unit of wave energy generated.

Coal Energy Decision Delayed Yet Again

I read in today's Guardian that the decision on whether to give Kingsnorth the go ahead has been delayed yet again whilst a further review of UK coal use is carried out. This has to be good news for the UK renewable industry as it brings uncertainties to the alternatives, although it is not yet the ideal situation for the UK renewable industry. That will come when the government finally decide against any new coal powered plants and their massive CO2 emissions and instead do everything they can to encourage the uptake and large scale use of renewables.

The Severn Barrage

The Severn Barrage is a big project planned for the Severn estuary between England and Wales. It is a massive project, and an overview of the history and plans are given here.

It is my personal opinion that with such a large resource it would be foolish not to utilise it to generate renewable electricity. The main disadvantage against a Severn Barrage would be the environmental impact on the tidal area. I feel that it is likely that without this scheme there will be much more damage to the environment from global warming. However, it is important that the changes to the tidal mudflats are minimised as much as possible. For this reason I feel that the best option would be for a barrage from near Brean Down to Lavernock Point in south Wales. However, it would be my own personal idea that the environmental impacts of a barrage could be minimilised by allowing the barrage to spend periods where it doesn't interfere with the natural flows of the river/tides. For example, it is likely that there will be times when the barrage would be able to generate maximum output at times in the middle of the night etc when there is minimum demand. As such at these times I would propose that no generation is allowed, and the river is allowed to flow naturally.

In addition, if the barrage is given the go-ahead I would like compensatory schemes elsewhere for birdlife. This could involve the use of land elsewhere which was previously mudflats, such as the Norfolk Broads, being allowed to revert back to their natural state.

Any comments?
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