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Riding Scotland’s renewable wave – a potential energy boom

An international renewable energy contingency was in Ottawa recently for the Ocean Renewable Energy Group’s (OREG) 2009 Fall Symposium. Prior to the event, which assembles Canada's ocean energy industry leadership and international associates who see the resource and economic opportunities our oceans and massive river systems offer, Scottish Development International hosted a workshop to highlight Scotland’s achievements in the areas of tidal, current and wave energy and how those are able to be translated to other parts of the world.


November 26, 2009
November 26, 2009
By Robert Colman

Energy Management had a chance to talk to Paul O’Brien, head of Scottish Development International’s Renewable Energy Sector, about Scotland’s success so far and plans for the future.

Energy Maangement: What are your renewable energy goals for Scotland?
Paul O’Brien:
We are looking to hit 50% of electricity from renewables by 2020. Our interim target is 31% by 2011. At the minute we’re on track to hit that. We’re just waiting for the official figures for 2008, but we believe we’re somewhere in the region of about 25% at the moment. So that’s quite a significant portion of electricity being derived from renewables. It’s split between hydro and wind right now. We’ve got 1.6 GW of hydro and we’re now up at 1.85 GW of wind. We’ll be adding some larger wind projects next year as well that will increase that. We’re looking at potentially within the next 10 years adding about 10 GW of offshore wind as well to the system. That will become a significant generator for the UK, not just Scotland.

EM: How did Scotland become a leader in wave and tidal power research?
O’Brien:
We have a long history of marine (energy research) going back to the ‘70s and the last oil crisis when money was poured into wave development by both the Scottish and UK governments. Our research, particularly out of the University of Edinburgh, again, is regarded as world leading. They head up the UK’s flagship research program, which is called SuperGen Marine Energy Research Consortium. So it’s not just a Scottish lead, the UK as a whole is a leading light within the marine energy field. But Scotland, particularly because of the European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC) being based here — we were lucky enough to have had the vision to build that when we did. Pelamis Wave Power was the first machine on site the day the EMEC opened, but it’s taken a while for the industry to get to a point where they could use EMEC.

What we’re now seeing is that there will be a rapid increase in the number of devices being tested at the site. Aquamarine Power, for instance, have just launched their device — a wave machine — at EMEC.

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EM: What makes Scotland such an ideal testing ground for this technology?
O’Brien:
EMEC is based in the Orkney Isles, which is an archipelago of islands off the north mainland. It’s got one of the best wave resources in the world and it’s also on the Pentland Firth, which is one of the best tidal resources as well, so within the same group of islands you’ve got the Atlantic rollers on the west coast where the EMEC test site is, and then between the islands you have a tremendous tidal resource, because at that point you have the Atlantic on one side, and the north sea on the other, and of course the two of them are forcing waves through the island archipelago on a twice daily basis, so that is a fantastic place for testing, and actually quite an extreme environment. A lot of companies, given a choice, would probably not have chosen quite such an energetic environment, but if they can prove it there they can actually prove it anywhere.

EM: I understand there are a number of different devices being tested at EMEC.
O’Brien:
Yes. Aquamarine Power have deployed their Oyster device, for one. It is a nearshore device. It sits very close in and uses the waves (to generate power) as they move into shallower waters.

Rolls Royce Marine in Dunfermline have been trialing their device up at EMEC. They’re planning early next year to deploy the device and run it almost continually over the summer. Tidal Generation Ltd is the company that actually developed the technology, and Rolls Royce have stepped in and bought up almost half the company. Because of that, their marine division in Dunfermline, Scotland, were involved in the construction of the device.

EM: Has there been manufacturing growth with the development of the industry?
O’Brien:
Well, if we just look at the deployments that have actually happened. Pelamis Wave Power built their first machine here, and they’ve built three machines that were deployed in Portugal here, and they have now built their second generation device, which will be deployed at EMEC in the spring of next year. It was built in Leith, near Edinburgh, in their new facility, and they are planning to build more, and the bulk of those devices will be built here in Scotland. Some of the materials were built here, and quite a bit of the supply chain that supplied the materials inside the machine came from Scotland, but wider than that, we also have a supply chain that extends into England and across into continental Europe. Not all of the device could be supplied out of Scotland, but the bulk of it and almost 70% of the overall cost remained in Scotland.

EM: Are there rules requiring a certain quantity of local content?
O’Brien:
Not exact legislation, no. What we’re really relying on is that the scale of these devices will mean that it doesn’t make sense to ship them around the world. What we’re thinking is that if the industry develops, that the devices will be – particularly the hulls, the outer shell and so forth (made of either steel or composite) – will be made locally. Ocean Power Technologies’s device is a good example of that.  The power train is being developed in New York and shipped to Scotland and has been integrated into our 150 kW device, which will be manufactured in Scotland by a local Scottish company, and they will integrate the whole thing here.

The supply chain companies will come to this quite naturally because, initially, if you are Aquamarine Power, you don’t want to be lugging an enormous machine across the Atlantic from Scotland to Canada, you will look for a local supply chain in Canada that can duplicate what has been done in the development in Scotland. Scottish companies should be partnering up with Canadian companies to basically show them, ‘this is how we did it, you don’t have to go back to the drawing board, the mistakes that we’ve made in the past, we know what they are, you can avoid them,’ and that’s a way to lower costs. And we’re beginning to see companies thinking along these lines. They don’t want to have to start from scratch when they enter a new market.

EM: How are you approaching the development of tidal and wave power today? How quickly do you see it maturing.
O’Brien:
We’ve developed a road map. We created our initial roadmap in 2004, but the problem in 2004 was we didn’t know how difficult this was. Nobody had tried to deploy full-scale devices in fairly rough conditions at that point. We’ve now had experience trying to put devices in the water, and we now know how difficult that is.

But we’ve also seen in that five years a transition in the market. We’ve moved away from venture capital money being the only money available to now seeing utilities, and very large companies such as France’s Alstom and Rolls Royce step into the market, and they’re enabling the development of devices much, much quicker.

If we step back and look at the development of the wind industry from the 1980s, how long it took them to get to the 1 MW machine – it was a considerable amount of time, almost 12 years. Now we’re seeing within a much shorter time frame that the marine industry is coming forward with 1 MW machines as almost the first machine they’re putting in the water, full-scale, so the time has been compressed because of the involvement of the large utilities, and to a certain extent that is now being paralleled in Canada as well. It’s the utilities that are going to enable the industry to develop very much quicker.

EM: You have an ambitious goal of potentially developing 2 gigawatts of wind and tidal power in the next 10 years.
O’Brien:
At the end of last year, Crown Estate came forward and announced that they would begin to look at the leasing of sites in the Pentland Firth and in the Orkney Isles for the development of marine projects – both wave and tidal. The aim was to have a number of 10-20 MW projects, particularly on the tidal side coming forward. What we’re seeing is that there are a number of companies that have done that, but there are also companies that believe they can develop sites of a larger scale, particularly the wave sites. The idea of this Pentland Firth development was to, over the next 10 years, develop up to 700 MW with the site licences that will be announced in the new year. We think there is a potential to develop up to a gigawatt of projects in the same time scale on these sites. In parallel to that we are now looking to do wave development sites in the western isles, and the potential to do further wave and tidal in Argyll waters, and in the Shetland Isles. If we can bring these all on in parallel, we think we could get the 2 GW (in operation). If we enabled enough sites to be made available, then the industry would fill the vacuum. Our job is to make sure that, if they want to do it, the grid comes to them and enables them to do it.

EM: This must pose infrastructure challenges.
O’Brien:
Infrastructure, at the moment, represents quite an investment. Recently Ofgem, the regulators for the electricity market (they control to a certain extent how much money can be invested in the grid), announced that they would allow the transmission companies to invest a billion pounds over the next two years to enable grid improvement and expansion. They also announced that of that billion pounds to be spent in the UK, 70% of it would be spent in Scotland. So we’re seeing the lion’s share of that allowed development.

What we have to do with it now is to plan it in such a way that we maximize the value to all of the renewables industry, and that’s why we’re trying to encourage both the wind industry and the marine energy industry to talk to each other, and to talk about how they can share infrastructure. Shetland has plans to build a 550 MW wind farm, and we are having to look at a 600 MW line running up to Shetland, subsea, from the Aberdeenshire coast, about 330 km up to Shetland. It’s a significant investment of 450 million pounds.

What we’re saying to the developers and to Shetland Trust, which is the owner of the potential wind farm, is you wouldn’t want to leave it like that because half the time you’ll be using only half the capacity of that line. Your wind farm will only every produce, even when it’s running at full tilt, 550 MW going down the line. But if you average it over the year, you’ll only use half the line most of the time. Even if you get that 50% capacity factor, you are still missing a trick by not adding something else in there that could use the other capacity. We’re beginning to suggest to them that wave and tidal should be part and parcel of the wind development as well. That also raises the issue of energy storage.

EM: It seems like it’s going to create an interesting market dynamic in the next few years.
O’Brien:
As the number of renewables increases, we’re having to come up with smarter ways of controlling the grid, managing the grid, managing the generation of the demand and balancing it, and we believe that’s given us an edge because we’ve been looking at such a high penetration of renewables on the system that we will develop these new technologies that will become a part of the smart grid systems, and that will also give us an advantage when we look to do this elsewhere. Not only will the marine companies come along, and offshore wind, but the smart grid companies that have developed these products in Scotland will come with them. And we see that as a future market that will be a large market. The problem is we have to do all of this in parallel – not just generation for generation’s sake but using it all in the best and smartest way possible. That’s going to be part and parcel of the development of green energy as well.

We parallel Canada in the fact that we have enormous resources offshore and far away from the demand centres – in our case, in continental Europe.

EM: Do you see the industry for tidal and wave power expanding?
O’Brien: Nobody has come up with the device that’s going to take over the market. There’s plenty of room for companies that want to step in with their own ideas, but we need to make sure the market actually happens to encourage the involvement of the Rolls Royce’s and the Alstom’s.