TODAY’S STUDY: The Huge Potential Of Wave Energy
Making Wave Power Work
June 2017 (Marine Power Systems)
The transition to renewable energy
The world is transitioning to a low carbon future in which clean, afordable, renewable electricity powers our daily lives. Already many countries source at more than 50% of their electricity from renewables. With the right technology, investment and policy in place, we believe the majority of the world will be powered by renewable energy by 2050.1
Whilst solar and wind power are presently the UK’s main renewable energy sources, waves - an untapped resource - have the potential to form a prominent part of our renewable energy mix. This report outlines how the ocean’s waves hold the power to become an important part of the UK’s low carbon future, as well as generate renewable electricity for communities, towns and cities across the world.
A brief overview of waves and wave power
Wave power is generated by capturing the movement of seawater caused by waves. Waves tend to be larger and more powerful in deeper water further out to sea. Not to be confused with another marine energy technology tidal power, using the power of water tidal movement.
Waves can be captured to generate energy near the shore, at mid or far ofshore, many miles from the coastline. Devices difer in scale, visibility and appearance depending on the size of the wave they’re looking to harness and with the amount of power they intend to generate. Concepts developed to-date generally aim to capture the up and down movement of the wave (the heave) or the to and fro movement (the surge) to drive a powertake-of system and generate electricity. Like ofshore wind power, this is transferred to shore with an undersea cable.
For decades engineers have been trying to find the very best way to capture the power potential of the ocean. But conditions at sea are harsh and developing resilient technology able to solve the challenges of generating afordable, reliable power is no simple task. But, like any important journey, success is increasingly likely with knowledge, time and persistence.
10% by 2050: A vision for the future
Our vision is that wave power will generate at least 10% of the world’s electricity by 2050. Waves can join the wind and the sun as a reliable, afordable clean energy resource; with Europe’s shores alone having the potential to bring electricity to 230 million people, almost half the homes in the EU.2 We want to see large wave farms built at sea from 2020, increasing year on year as demand for clean power grows…
The technology challenges: Harnessing powerful and uncompromising waves
Simply because of the amount of energy stored by the ocean and its variable conditions, the marine environment is an incredibly challenging environment for technology. This is particularly the case for multi-MW, far ofshore wave devices, as being developed by MPS.
“Moving a new power generating concept to an industrial reality, and feeding substantial amounts of electricity into the grid, requires decades of investment, innovation and applied learning. Ocean energy development has advanced significantly, and follows a similar development timeline to that of other energy industries [such as wind].”
“To harness diferent resources viably, the ocean energy industry is developing concepts, including: small wave devices for calmer seas such as the Mediterranean; smaller tidal turbines for slower currents or near-shore areas; and devices that can be attached to harbour walls, dams, bridges and other existing infrastructure. A range of ocean energy devices must be developed to take into account the range of diferent sea conditions.” Ocean Energy Europe, March 2017
To date wave technology has not been able to deliver energy at a low cost due to four main challenges, as identified by Marine Power Systems (MPS):
1. Energy Capture Subsurface orbital energy flow is powerful but dificult to harness
2. Survivability The marine environment is extremely harsh, forces on any device must be limited at times
3. Transportation, Operation & Maintenance Devices need to be quick and simple to deploy, recover and service
4. Capital Costs Devices need to be cheap to build in relation to the power they produce…
10% Wave: How to reach our wave energy potential
With the industry focused on developing technology for testing over the coming years, the main call is for policy support to bridge a short gap between now and deployment, to increase the scale and speed of impact. But there are other challenges, namely public perception, technological progress and funding. All are interlinked.
It’s crucial to be clear on how wave energy meets its potential. The prize is big in terms of economic development and clean, afordable and reliable energy growth.
Public perception and social engagement 3
Whilst 10% of global electricity from waves is possible, at present there is a lack of information for government, investors, industry and the public at large to understand how wave power works and it’s potential as a low carbon electricity source. This must and will change for wave to reach its full potential. Whilst more mature renewable energy technologies such as solar photovoltaics and wind have seen increasing success in public perception, wave power is seen as a second generation renewable energy technology grouped with tidal power as ‘marine energy’. Yet, a promising 77% of the British public support wave power.17 Over time, we’re likely to see more industry joined up thinking and communication on the benefits of wave power.
Finance provision and positive return on investment
IRENA is advocating that the share of renewable energy in the world’s primary energy supply would need to increase to 65 per cent in 2050 from 15 per cent in 2015 to stay within a two degree warming limit. An additional $29 trillion of energy investment would be needed to 2050, equivalent to 0.4 per cent of global gross domestic product (GDP). Such investment should provide stimulus that, with other policies supporting growth, would boost global GDP by 0.8 per cent in 2050.18
Commenting on the European market alone, Ocean Energy Europe states that today 45% of wave energy companies and 50% of tidal energy companies are from the EU.19 The right support over the coming decade will enable Europe to maintain leadership in a global market, worth a potential €653 billion (cumulative, undiscounted) for 2010-2050, and an annual market of up to €53 billion, hugely benefiting the European economy. Investment will come from a wide mix of private and public bodies, supported by the wider finance and banking industry.
With this backdrop, the wider impetus for investors, government and industry to back renewable energy is strong, but the conversation on wave power is dominated by its high price, ie. the proven cost of electricity production or levelised cost of energy; plus performance and reliability, otherwise known as long-term profit. Today, it is challenging for investors to understand the interplay of these important factors. Therefore ‘cost per kWh’ ofen becomes the single point of diferentiation between renewable energy technologies.
According to Ocean Energy Europe lack of empirical experience and deployment data results in uncertainties about ocean energy projects operation and production.20 This means that ocean energies bear a higher technological and financial risk compared to more mature energy technologies. At present there is only limited protection available from the commercial insurance market or from manufacturer warranties. At project level, this risk is currently overwhelmingly borne by the project developers, both limiting their pool of potential equity finance and making it dificult to leverage their funds to access commercial project finance, something the industry is looking to change to help shif the investment picture. As technologies such as WaveSub begin to reduce the cost of electricity from wave power, this investment landscape will simplify…
On the horizon: What to expect in 2017 and beyond
The future for wave power and large-scale wave farms is promising with the right long-term outlook from governments, a stable policy framework together with sound and sustained communications eforts from industry. We believe wave power technology has the potential to supply around 10% of the world’s electricity demand by 2050, but in the meantime there is much to be done.
Perhaps the most poignant words of late have been from David Jones, Director of Marine Energy Wales in March 2017 who ofered a word of caution amongst the enthusiasm for ocean power. He recalled a time when the UK led the burgeoning wind power market and was set to become a world leader in an emerging tech. However, policy support was withdrawn at a critical stage Denmark is now in the lead, with a workforce of 28,000 generating £5 billion a year in exports.
We agree. We have witnessed the ups and downs of both the wind and solar sector across the world, and it’s time for the marine sector to learn the lessons and go forward with purpose and knowledge. Echoing the words of Ocean Energy Europe and RenewableUK,22 to provide long term jobs and reliable, low cost electricity we need:
1. Policy stability and consistent financial support, with marine energy firmly in national energy and industrial strategies.
2. Joined up communications across the industry and meaningful public support.
3. Investor confidence and action.
Here at MPS we’re now focused on the testing of WaveSub at the FaBTest site in Cornwall in autumn 2017. At this point we will open a new round of fundraising to develop the full-scale, multi-MW technology required for the deployment of large wave farms from 2020.
Our mission is to make afordable, reliable and scalable wave energy technology to power communities across the world. We’re doing this by addressing the core challenges facing the industry: energy capture, survivability, transportation, operation and maintenance and reduced capital costs. Whilst we’re driving hard at cost reductions to hit our target of being competitive with ofshore wind energy, which we believe is fully achievable, within the wider market, investment confidence and policy framework remains more important than ever.
Support for wave energy must remain. Once this is in place, investment should equal jobs and a meaningful industry: bringing prosperity to Wales, the UK and communities across the globe. Together, we can achieve 10% of our electricity from waves.