Scotland's wave energy industry buoyed by Mocean Energy and AWS Ocean milestones

A perfect storm is brewing in and around Scotland's wave energy industry which, if its potential is harnessed, could make Scotland a key player in the global renewables economy, writes Stephen Emerson

Mocean Energy’s prototype device at Rosyth
Mocean Energy’s prototype device at Rosyth

Confidence in the sector is growing after two of Wave Energy Scotland's (WES) pilot projects moved towards real sea testing while there is an increased appetite from global governments for net zero technologies and enhanced UK government support is on the horizon.

WES was set up in 2014 to ensure the country maintains a leading role in the development of marine energy and it has been working with Mocean Energy and AWS Ocean on two pilot projects for the past five years.

Wave Energy Scotland managing director, Tim Hurst, said: "We have three things merging here which are the real need for low carbon technologies, new technology being demonstrated and the prospect of a market support mechanism being announced later this year.

AWS Ocean's Archimedes Waveswing device at Malin’s yard in Renfrew

"We have a technology which can solve our energy problems and we could have a mechanism which will create a market for it with the UK government considering changes to the Contract for Difference (CfD) market support mechanism that is appropriate for wave and tidal energy.

"There is also a commitment from governments across the world to achieve net zero."

OVERVIEW OF MOCEAN AND AWS PROJECTS

Edinburgh-based Mocean Energy’s Blue X device was unveiled at Forth Ports in Rosyth in May before being transported to the European Marine Energy Centre's (EMEC) test site at Scapa Flow.

Wave Energy Scotland managing director Tim Hurst.

Blue X, fabricated by AJS Production in Cowdenbeath, is a prototype design that features a hinged raft with a unique geometry. It provides learning for both Mocean’s Blue Star product aimed at the small scale energy production market and its utility scale product line, Blue Horizon, that aims to deliver reliable green energy to networks around the world.

AWS Ocean's Archimedes Waveswing device is expected to join Mocean Energy’s Blue X device in Orkney in July once final tests have been completed at Malin Group’s yard in Renfrew.

The Inverness firm describe their device as a submerged wave power buoy that “reacts to changes in sub-sea water pressure caused by passing waves. A direct-drive generator is used to turn this movement, or motion, into electricity.

MARKET SUPPORT

Industry advocates say support from the UK Government in changing the Contracts for Difference (CfD) scheme to cover wave and tidal energy is crucial to ensuring further investment in the sector.

The Contracts for Difference (CfD) scheme is the UK government’s main mechanism for supporting low-carbon electricity generation

CfDs offer an incentivised rate for developers of renewable technology for the electricity they produce over a 15 year period allowing companies and investors to take a long term view.

Currently wave energy firms compete alongside their wind counterparts for the same CfD contracts.

Offshore wind entered the scheme in 2015 and has seen the cost of new projects fall by 50 per cent since then, making it one of the cheapest forms of renewable energy.

Tim said: "Wave and tidal energy are in the same funding pot as offshore wind.

“While it’s essential for wave and tidal to have support from government, they need a support mechanism suitable for emerging technologies.

“Competing against developed technology means wave and tidal energy will not secure the funding they need to be commercially viable.

“This is mainly due to the early development stage of wave energy technology, so as advances are made the cost of production will fall, but that is unlikely to happen in time for the fourth CfD round.

"There is a change in attitudes towards low carbon technology and if a market support mechanism through a changed CfD then we do expect that to act as a trigger for investment in the sector."

NEED FOR LOW CARBON TECHNOLOGY

There is growing international commitment to achieving net zero by 2050 with the UK , US , China and the European Union all committing to lowering their overall emissions.

Achieving this aim will require not only changes in human behaviour but the mass adoption of new technologies capable of transforming how we use and produce energy.

Tim said: "Grid access is an issue for suppliers of renewable energy including wave and tidal.

"It needs a consolidated effort from industry and government to develop an infrastructure that will support this change from fossil fuel-based generation to renewable-based generation.

"The natural resources of the UK are on the peripheries and the large centres of energy consumption are towards the centre.

"We have not been used to being supplied from the outside inwards as it has been the other way around in the past.

"We have got to recognise that a grid that is fit for purpose is required for the transition to net zero."

EXPORTING TECHNOLOGY

For Scotland's economy to grow it needs to export not only goods but technology that is created and developed here.

Tim said: "We are using Scottish technology to solve an energy and environmental problem for Scotland but we are also going to have an opportunity to export that technology and allow the exploitation of a global resource for our economic benefit.

"This is not available for wind as we do not manufacture any wind technology."

A developed wave energy industry in Scotland could open up access to markets around the world, according to Cameron McNatt of Mocean Energy, who said the UK was a good proving ground.

"We anticipate our technology being used all over the world, he added.

"Outside of Europe, the United States is a big target market for us as is Australia and the Oceanic region.

“Scotland and the North Sea are really good proving grounds for this technology and where you have a coastline and some waves, there is an opportunity.

"The UK is one of the biggest developers of offshore wind projects, however the technologies themselves come from Denmark and Spain. There is an opportunity for Scotland to grab a piece of the technology and be an exporter.”

The world's oceans are dotted with remote outposts and pipelines that either require a source of power themselves or to power the autonomous devices that monitor them.

Simon Grey, of AWS Ocean, said: “Archimedes Waveswing can provide power in different and difficult locations.

"This could be for the aquaculture industry, the oil and gas sector or for ocean survey and monitoring companies.”

Wave technology could also improve the supply and energy efficiency for remote countries around the world, according to Simon.

He added: "Our technology could also be used for remote communities where other renewables don't work.

"These are places where it is dark for a lot of the year and there is not a lot of wind but you do get a lot of swell coming from ocean waves."

What will Scotland's wave energy sector look like in the future?

We are unlikely to see large farms of wave energy generating devices with the technology instead used to support existing sources of energy generation.

Simon said: "We say wave power as an adjunct to existing energy production.

"Our Waveswing device could be integrated into the base of a floating windfarm which would mean that we would share the foundations along with costs associated for access and maintenance.

"Wave power can also plug the gaps in wind farm energy generation when the wind stops blowing as waves will continue for another 24 hours after the wind has dropped off."

Cabinet Secretary for Net Zero & Energy Michael Matheson said Scotland was well-placed to capitalise on the growth in the wave energy sector.

“With our abundant natural resources, expertise and forward-looking policy approach, Scotland is ideally-placed to harness the enormous global market for marine energy whilst helping deliver our net-zero economy, which is why the Scottish Government has long-supported marine energy and invested more than £40 million to date in the internationally-renowned Wave Energy Scotland programme.”For more information about Scotland’s wave energy sector visit www.waveenergyscotland.co.uk