The latest attempt at unlocking the potential of wave energy in the UK is a Strategic Collaboration Agreement between UK-based offshore wind and wave energy specialist Simply Blue Energy and Swedish wave energy developer CorPower Ocean. The collaboration is focused on developing a number of significant wave energy projects off the coast of the UK and Ireland.
Through this collaboration CorPower will provide Simply Blue with its wave energy technologies to deploy in the development areas Simply Blue has identified, with an aim to start producing and exporting electricity by 2024.
Simply Blue will in turn provide its unique expertise, investigating the deployment of combined wave and wind energy farms and using its existing comprehensive research to identify the most viable wave projects.
Simply Blue CEO Sam Roch-Perks is positive that the technology is up to the task.
“We have worked with the team at CorPower over the last two and a half years and they have, during this time, convinced us that they have the ability to bring their technology to the required levels of technical readiness within the timeframes we have agreed.
“We are also excited to explore the possibility of combining floating wind and wave energy to bring balance to the grid which is so important if we are to increase the reliability and viability of renewable energy”.
CorPower Ocean commercial director Anders Jansson agrees, saying: “We’ve been working together …(since) Simply Blue started by doing international horizon scanning for potential technologies that they thought could become commercially viable.
“They did that for about eight months, interviewed a bit over 100 companies and met with some of them, and we had the luck of being one they wanted to work with.”
Wave power in the UK: can they succeed where others have failed?
While wave power is a renewable source that shows a lot of promise, the unique environmental and economic challenges posed by generating wave energy have meant that very few companies have successfully implemented wave technology.
CorPower and Simply Blue Energy are seeking to address the challenges of wave power by learning from projects that have come before. “I think the difference here in what CorPower has done, because we’re extremely aware of the tough climate, is we know a fundamental thing for wave power to work is to have the physics on your side,” Jansson says.
“You need to have the proof that you can produce enough electricity in comparison to the amount of material that you use. We have what we call structural efficiency, and that is a huge factor from a technical perspective in the renewables sector. We’ve been able to show that we have the same structural efficiency as offshore wind, and we produce the same amount of electricity with the same amount of material cost.
“This is the starting point, and if we add in that waves have a much higher energy density than wind, we see that we can make things commercially viable. “
A significant part of wave energy’s failure to develop is cost – the cost of developing and maintaining wave technology quickly becomes prohibitive to investors, which exacerbates the problems with structural efficiency.
Jansson believes the Strategic Collaboration Agreement holds an answer to this problem too: “The main reason wave energy projects haven’t been commercially viable is because they’ve generally been too costly, and eliminating that cost is the reason we think we can succeed.
“We’ve developed technical innovations that allow our wave technology to survive in big storms, and amplify the motion without any control systems. That’s significant in our operations, and that’s why we and Simply Blue believe this can work. “
Wave Energy Coverters: built to survive the storm
CorPower’s principle innovation in wave power is its Wave Energy Converters (WEC), a buoy-based technology inspired by the pumping action of the human heart and uses stored pressure to generate energy from waves in two directions.
According to the company, this bi-directional generation allows the system to produce five times more energy than traditional wave technology with a smaller and cheaper device. The WEC also has a storm protection mode that makes it more resistant to waves, improving its survivability and reducing maintenance costs.
Jansson notes that wave power needs to work within a greater renewable energy infrastructure rather than as a single technology, which could mitigate the problems of cost and efficiency.
“There is a need to really understand the renewable energy system,” he says. “So you have multiple renewable energy structures and you need to balance the grids, you need to understand how the different renewable energy sources interact with each other.
“And that’s one reason why Simply Blue is so interested in wave and floating wind power, because when you combine them you have a natural balancing in energy production, as the wind creates the waves but the waves also come a couple of days after the wind.”
Challenges and limitations: from dry-testing to scaling up
While CorPower’s technology and Simply Blue’s extensive research mean the companies are optimistic about developing wave energy in the UK, the collaboration has still faced a number of challenges in developing and implementing wave power.
“I would say specifically that one thing we did, which was very fortunate for us and we would never have done without having seen so many other wave projects do it differently, was that we started small and didn’t continue to the next stage until we had proven everything that we needed to prove,” says Jansson,
“Another thing we did was build a dry test base, where we could test the complete system on land for a year to solve all the small problems in the system before we installed it in the ocean. So we had a good connected system running for a significant amount of time.
“If we hadn’t done that we’d probably have failed, because there are always so many small issues you have to solve, and if you have to solve them out in the ocean it becomes very costly. That was something that we learned from experts in the sector, which really helped us understand the challenges that we have.”
As well as the physical challenges associated with developing wave power technologies, Jansson notes that wave power projects face logistical and organisational limitations that can affect the rate of their development.
“There are a number of limitations. One is political – that side of things needs consulting, time and access to information. The UK has a very transparent process to get that information but it still takes time, which limits how fast you can scale up.
“Then we have the problem of funding, which makes it more risky to go with new technology as opposed to tried and tested technologies such as land-based wind or solar cells. So we need to prove that this is a reliable technology that can become bankable.
“One of the main reasons we haven’t seen commercial wave energy so far is we haven’t really done work as an industry to understand the financial side of energy projects.“