Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Meanwhile, also on Lewis

Elsewhere in the Western Isles, and in an announcement with slightly unusual timing, npower has announced that it has formally submitted a planning application for the 4MW wave-powered breakwater project at Siadar.

With the recent "no" decision on the Barvas Moor project, it will be interesting to see if the active community in the Western Isles is supportive of this much smaller project or not.

With 4MW of installed capacity, average output might be 1MW (based on a capacity factor of 25%). The usual rule of thumb is that a household uses c. 5,000 kWhr/yr. This is an average of just over half a kW - which sounds low to me, especially for the often electrically-heated Western Isles. If this is right, this project could power around 2,000 houses. There are probably 6,000-10,000 homes on Lewis (based on 2-3 people per home, and Wikipedia's population figure of 19,000), and if this average power usage figure is right, this would mean that 20% - 33% of local homes would be powered by this project.

There are many heroic assumptions in this back of an envelope assessment, but it's clear that the project could make a real local impact.

RIP Barvas Moor Windfarm

The Scottish Executive has announced the decision that the Lewis Wind Power project for the development of up to 181 turbines on Barvas Moor in the Western Isles' Isle of Lewis will not go ahead.

Unsurprisingly, the antis are jubilant. They're not letting the decision get in the way of the self-righteous NIMBY dance: saying "we're in favour of windfarms, but just not in this particular special case".

The pros are obviously crestfallen, with the decision not to go ahead likely to sound the deathknell (again) for the Arnish yard, as well as for economic development in the Western Isles. No Barvas Moor probably also means no interconnector for other wind (and wave) projects, limiting development potential for the Isles.

An opportunity tragically missed, in our view, as this was one of the few areas where the Western Isles geographic position - in the area with second densest natural energy flux on the planet - could offer a rare developmental advantage.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Verdant Power - virtual tour of the RITE project

It's not every day that the Pope has any impact on the marine renewables industry. But he did yesterday, as the security arrangements for his talk to the United Nations in New York made it logistically difficult for the delegates at the Global Marine Renewable Energy Conference to get from the conference hotel (Broadway and 44th St) to Roosevelt Island (aerial tram from 59th Street and 2nd Avenue).

So Verdant brought a virtual tour of the facility to the hotel, and very impressive it was too.

For me, the key points were
  • Verdant has generated nearly 50 MWh over 7,000 turbine-hours

  • The technology is on version 5 - this isn't an easy or quick process

  • The units are currently rated at 35 kW, and achieve a capacity factor in a tidal setting of c. 30%, but maybe 70%in run-of-river

  • Verdant was extremely coy about costings

  • Verdant has spent "as much" on environmental studies (lots of money on fish monitoring) as on the technology

I'm very impressed with the step-wise Verdant approach (reminiscent of the Pelamis staged development approach) and by the progress achieved.

Global Marine Renewable Energy Conference - New York, April 2008 - an investigation of wave energy and tidal energy

The Global Marine Renewable Energy Conference finished yesterday with a tour de force by Verdant Power. More of that later, but first my reactions to the main agenda. I've summarised the highpoint of each session here

Session 1: George Hagerman, Virginia Tech: Resource potential and technology status - excellent and knowledgeable overview of technology

Session 2: Keynote addresses. For me, the best was Matt Simmons. Matt is author of "Twilight in the Desert" and founder of Simmons & Co. International, an oil-oriented investment banking firm. I first met Matt a few years ago, when I talked to him about a large UK offshore windfarm project. From memory, he was deeply sceptical then, but his thesis is now that oil production is soon to rapidly decline, and to avoid massive social dislocation and wars over limited resources, it's essential we now pursue alternative energy sources. It's a compelling thesis and convincingly presented. Matt's putting money where his mouth is, by supporting the new Ocean Energy Institute (to be built in Maine).

Sessions 3 and 4: Lots of worthy technical commentary and review of support mechanisms, from which nothing in particular lodged in the memory. Nice to see the UK well represented though.

Session 5: the main event - developers talking about financing their technologies. An interesting range of experiences and firms at different stages in the process. There was still some evidence of the wishlist - more complaining about the difficulties of getting across the "valley of death" than constructive suggestions on how to do it, though. Although, I suppose if you've got a great idea for closing the deal, you're going to want to keep it to yourself.

And that was day one. Unless you count the Canadian reception (and not a Labatt's in sight) and rumours of a bash at the Irish Embassy.

Day 2 opened with Congressman Jay Inslee, who put forward a very positive legislative agenda, which he promises he's working night and day to get through the House. These include a feed in tariff and a renewables obligation- which the conference participants rated the most important stimuli for the rollout of marine renewables.

Session 1 was a chance for EMEC and WaveHub to talk about their regulatory experiences, and for FERC and the MMS to talk about how consenting might work in the US.

Session 2 went through some of the environmental issues facing the Portuguese wave centre, and some other environmental matters. Bit of a chance for the academics to lobby for the "research feast" warned of by Neil Kermode of EMEC in the previous session.

Finally: closing remarks by Senator (R-AK) Lisa Murkowski. Unable to resist a certain partisan finger-pointing, but (unsurprisingly for a representative from Alaska), the Senator was pretty positive on marine renewables. Apparently, Alaska has more coastline than the rest of the US out together!

The final keynote was from NTSERDA's CEO, who's spending $2.5 million on R&D in the New York area (substantially on Verdent, I suspect), compared with a national total of $13 million from federal funds over the next two years.

In summary, as always with conferences the real value came from the talking to new people over the water cooler (or donut stand). I was very impressed that about 300 people made the trip to New York from all over the world, but also that many were from the US (where I hadn't thought so much was going on in marine renewables). The demographic split showed the largest groups were developers and academics - so the industry still needs to be attracting more investors, bankers and (probably) lawyers.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Off to New York

So it's off to New York for the ambitiously-named "Global Marine Renewable Energy Conference."

I'm particularly keen to hear about developers, including
  • Ron Smith, Verdant Power, United States

  • George Taylor, Ocean Power Technologies, United States

  • John Cooper, Ocean Renewable Power Company, United States

  • Des McGinnes, Pelamis Wave Power, Scotland

  • Andrew Parish, Wavebob Ltd., Ireland

  • Martin T I Wright, Marine Current Turbines Limited, Scotland

and also about financing and revenue support in the US and Canada.

It's an early start: 0720 on Thursday, so I'm glad I'm flying west to attend the conference!

I'll be sure to report back as the conference progresses...

Monday, April 07, 2008

Pulse Generation - pulls the rabbit out of the hat

John Hutton, the BERR Minister today announced that it has granted planning permission for a £2 million 150 kW (yes, kW) device in the Humber.

This project has been in the offing for a couple of years. The Pulse Generation website talks about hoping to install a prototype in 2007, and the magical £878,000 BERR grant is mentioned even then. Clearly getting through the planning process has taken longer than Pulse had hoped.

On the upside, the technology is a novel reciprocating hydrofoil device (imagine two of the Engineering Business's Stingrays back to back) but with the generator above the waterline. The site looks interesting too, with a sheltered wave climate and probably quite nicely bi-directional flow.

So the population of devices in the water looks like it's getting larger again.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Islay community steps up for tidal

According to report in the Guardian (not dated 1st April, before you ask), the good folks of Islay are planning to install commercial scale tidal power (to go with the LIMPET wave device).

A look at the consultation document (on the Islay Energy Trust website) shows that the first £750,000 will be spent over the next three years as follows:
  • Phase 1 Consultation

  • Phase 2 Pre-feasibility

  • Phase 3 Feasibility

  • Phase 4 Consents

Impressively, the document includes a list as long as your arm of people who the Islay Energy Trust hopes might be convinced to pay for various elements of this work. This document goes on to say that the installed cost of the turbines will be £1.4 million/MW - £3 million/MW and aiming for a target electricity cost of 8.5p/kWh.

These figures would certainly offer a commercial return, but I don't think anyone could achieve these costs yet. So the project is relying on the technology advancing to meet the island's need, and there are plenty of companies seeking to develop their concepts to this point.

The document says that no choices have been made as to the technology to be deployed, so it would seem that the door is open for all developers!

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Verdant Power - pluses and minuses

In an earlier post, I promised to write more about my recent visit to Verdant Power...but first, don't let the picture fool you - there's a 19 hour non-slack period in this stretch of water, running at up to 3 m/s.

On the plus side:
  • Verdant's got kit in the water (at least I think it was in the water, the East River's a bit murky)

  • Verdant has made real progress with the technology, through umpteen refinements

  • It's got further development plans, both in the East River and elsewhere

  • The design is simple, with relatively few things to go wrong, and may be scalable

  • The site is fantastic, with well-behaved bi-directional flow at up to 3 m/s, within a 4-iron of the United Nations building (well, one of Tiger Woods' 4-irons), and better still a short taxi ride from Wall Street

  • The company's already raised some significant finance (exploiting that taxi ride from Wall St)

On the "still to do" side:
  • Installation is still difficult and expensive

  • Labour costs in New York are high

  • Reliability is still unproven, despite time in the water (due in part to the fast technology iterations)
  • Revenue support mechanisms in the US are not as clear as in the UK

On balance, I was very impressed with the company's progress, technology and concept. There's still a fair way to go, but it seems to me that there could well be commercial applications for the technology, particularly in more accessible run-of-river style applications.

In summary, nice one Verdant!

Saltire prize - £10 million (got your attention now?)

Alex Salmond has announced the Saltire Prize - a £10 million prize for advances in clean energy.

Remember the Ansari X-Prize - the privately sponsored prize for the first people to put a craft into space twice within two weeks? Or the Orteig prize, which pushed Lindbergh to fly the Atlantic? Well, the Saltire Prize is intended to trigger and stimulate the same kind of step change in renewables. Obviously Alex Salmond wants the prize to nucleate industries in Scotland, where the wave and tidal (and wind) resources are exceptional.

To my way of thinking, the success of these earlier prizes was driven by the clear and unambiguous targets (getting into space, flying the Atlantic). It's not clear yet, from Alex's speech at least, what the criteria for winning the prize will be. There's a waffley bit in the press release:

The key elements of the Saltire Prize are:
  • capturing imaginations: challenge that can inspire a revolution in green energy

  • global challenge: high profile prize open to teams from across the world

  • relevant to Scotland: relevant to area in which Scotland has strong natural resource and can be demonstrated in Scotland

  • capitalises on Scotland's expertise: challenge will reflect area in which Scotland has strong technical expertise and people already working

  • achievable in the short-medium term: challenge ideally achievable within a 2-5 year timeframe
I hope the criteria are clearer when they get defined, as this prize won't pull in the effort and investment unless people know what it takes to win.  I love the idea though (mainly because it's an idea I've had myself, but Redfield Consulting doesn't have the budget that Alex has), so let's hope it really gets things moving in the sector.

WaveHub "retimetabled"

The Southwest Regional Development Agency has just announced a new timetable for the WaveHub project. The project has been pushed back by a year, to allow the developers to have another go around with tendering to try to get a better price on the deal. This has to be the most positive spin on a project delay that I've seen in a long time!

WaveHub says that it is still " at the forefront of wave energy development on a worldwide basis", but it's not really very clear how this can be the case when there's nothing in the water yet.

The remorselessly upbeat WaveHub website has yet to mention the news.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Newsflash - MCT installs in Strangford Lough

Congratulations to MCT for getting into Strangford Lough. It's well known that the installation has been the victim of a number of spanners in the works, so a big hand is due. We'll be keenly interested to see how commissioning goes, and hope that MCT is successfully powering those thousand local homes in short order.

The Guardian has covered the story pretty thoroughly here.