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After slow start, wave energy approaches commercial scales


The burgeoning wave energy sector, which has endured ups and downs in recent years through initial testing of devices and uncertain government support, has recently set sail with new projects that have brought the industry to the brink of commercial development (Listen to podcast: Emergence of the wave energy industry).


Portugal has established its role as a pioneer in wave energy development.


Through the Aguçadoura project off the coast of northern Portugal, for instance, Enersis and its technology partner Scottish company Pelamis Wave Power (PWP) completed initial deployment of a 750-kW PWP wave-power unit, in August 2008, that generated electricity for the Portuguese grid, a source familiar with the initiative told Platts.


The unit initially encountered difficulties with buoyancy, but these problems were solved, the source noted.


Though the system did not reach peak generation, it produced "hundreds of kilowatts," he said, adding that it has since been disconnected to prove it can be returned to harbor for inspection of the component parts. "Everything is in very good order," the source added.


The Aguçadoura project partners are looking to have three 750-kW machines ready by September 2008.


The goal is to have 30 machines deployed within a few years exceeding 20 MW - a venture that could expand "up to 500 MW," the source said.


The Portuguese government is supporting the project by a feed-in tariff provided specifically for marine energy of about €0.23/kWh (US36¢/kWh), according to PWP's Web site.


Portugal has established its role as a pioneer in wave energy development, with national institute Instituto Superior Técnico studying the technology since 1977.


It boasts a 250-350-kilometer (150-220 mile) stretch of coast deemed suitable for wave-energy exploitation (See map: Average annual wave power levels as kW/m of wave front).


Other companies are looking to join the rush in Portugal for wave power, as developers Tecdragon, EDP and Eneólica take major steps in experimental development.


Additionally, Portuguese steel construction giant Martifer has created a joint marine-energy venture with Scottish Briggs, while Generg conducts research and planning for a wave energy plant.


EDP, Portugal's largest power utility, is in the final stages of talks to install wave energy demonstration projects in Portugal.


This deployment would follow the company's participation in a review of more than 50 offshore wave energy technologies.


Final site selection has begun on one EDP project known as the Breakwave, a system financed with €2 million ($3.1 million) of European Union funds that uses oscillating water column technology.


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More advanced is Tecdragon, which aims to install in Portugal's São Pedro de Moel pilot zone the first world's 7-MW wave-energy plant.


"Until now the start of installation was not possible due to adverse meteorological conditions," explained Tecdragon Manager Borges da Cunha.


The system would be based on Wave Dragon technology, which the company describes as a "floating, slack-moored energy converter" that meshes current offshore and hydropower turbine technology.


Wave Dragon, the company said, is the only wave energy converter being developed that can be freely scaled up.


António Sarmento, director of Portugal's Wave Energy Center, said that over the next 30 years Portugal could invest €5 billion ($7.8 billion) to install up to 5 GW of wave energy capacity along its western coast and along the coasts of its Madeira and Azores islands.


Another EU member is jockeying with Portugal to become the world leader in wave energy deployment - and to reap the anticipated benefits in new jobs and export earnings that the emerging marine energy industry is expected to generate.


The UK wave power sector moved ahead on July 30 when Jim Mather, minister of enterprise and energy for the Scottish regional government, commissioned a 100-kw Wavegen turbine.


Scotland offers developers some of the world's best wave-power levels.


The 100-kW turbine is "a major step forward," the Scottish government said, for the Siadar Wave Energy Project, which is being developed by Npower Renewables, RWE Innogy's UK operating company, on the Scottish isle of Lewis.


Npower Renewables submitted planning applications in April for SWEP, which would generate up to 4 MW using 40 Wavegen 100-kW turbines.


If the Scottish government approves the plans, construction could start as early as 2009 and would take an estimated 18 months to complete.


Next page: US wave energy market suffers temporary setback


Created: August 5, 2008


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