Wave Energy Scotland presents the challenges and achievements in renewable wave energy
Now in its third year, Wave Energy Scotland (WES) has created a groundswell of confidence and potential investment in the wave energy sector throughout the world, but especially in Europe. WES has engaged with over 153 organisations across 11 countries, the majority of which are European. Of the 14 academic institutions with which WES is involved, six are based in Europe.
Small country, big challenges
For a small country, Scotland punches well above its weight in terms of wave energy potential and engineering prowess. When late in 2014 the Scottish government asked Highlands and Islands Enterprise to establish WES, Scotland was already the undisputed leader in wave energy technology development.
The path to successfully harnessing the power of waves has, however, been turbulent. As Tim Hurst, managing director of WES, says: “Of all the clean energy solutions, wave energy is the hardest nut to crack, but it has huge potential, far greater than tidal energy. Of our four key success criteria – affordability, performance, availability and survivability – the last one is our biggest challenge.”
According to the World Energy Council, Europe has more wave power capacity than North America and Greenland combined, so perfecting the best wave energy convertor on this side of the Atlantic is well worth the effort, ecologically and financially.
The wonder of wave energy
Wave Energy Scotland has a five year strategy supported by the Scottish government to bring continuity, structure and long-term confidence to the industry so as to attract future investors. Its approach is unique in that research and development projects are fully funded, but go through rigorous evaluation by WES together with external industry experts at stage gates with the most successful technologies receiving further support. To fast-track developments, WES is managing parallel calls for four key subsystems: power take-off (PTO), novel wave energy converters (NWEC), structural materials and manufacturing processes, and control systems. Bringing together the collective expertise from the 153 participating organisations has real potential to create the winning design.
Hurst adds: “To begin with, some companies were not keen to share information, but there is increasing trust and co-operation. People are realising the benefits of not having to create everything themselves so we are seeing NWEC designers pairing with materials manufacturers and PTO engineers.”
In its first call for power take-off systems in May 2015, the organisation awarded almost £7m (~€8m) to 17 projects. Of those PTO projects, four are through stage one and into stage two of research, and have received further awards worth £2m. More recently, WES awarded £7.5m to three projects selected to go onto stage three in its programme.
WES’ second call awarded £2.25m to eight NWEC designs. Of these eight tank-tested NWECs, four designs showed good potential and have been selected for further funding at stage two in the programme.
WES is funding ten projects examining structural materials and manufacturing processes which will improve the construction of future devices. These projects examine traditional materials such as steel and concrete, as well as more contemporary options such as rotationally moulded polymers and elastomers.
Its most recent call for control systems attracted considerable international interest from the UK and five other European countries. Several of the applicant companies are from sectors out with wave energy such as aerospace, defence and automotive sectors.
To date, the organisation has awarded £24.6m to 56 projects, several of which are based in European countries such as Spain, Italy, Belgium and Sweden, and despite Britain’s changing political climate, WES plans to continue to build on its constructive collaboration with Europe.
Hurst is confident that by 2019 WES will have a raft of efficient wave-to-wire devices that are reliable, economic and ready for original equipment manufacturers to take on to commercial production.