Wave energy experts delivering success..
The Inverness based company behind the world’s first commercial-scale wave energy plant that is successfully connected to the national grid is looking to further enhance what it has to offer .
Voith Hydro Wavegen, based at Harbour Road, is a world leader in wave energy. It developed and operates the Limpet plant, which was put into operation in 2000 on the island of Islay, off the west coast of Scotland. The plant has been successfully operating for eleven years as a demonstrator project accumulating over 70,000 grid connected generating hours; an unrivalled level of operating experience in the marine energy industry. The plant demonstrates long term availability levels comparable to conventional power generation plant. The grid-connected operation provides Voith Hydro Wavegen with a wealth of data to help optimise plant performance. The Limpet plant is also used as a full scale test bed for the development of more efficient wave power generation equipment.
In July 2011 Voith Hydro Wavegen commissioned the first wave power plant to be sold with commercial guarantees for performance and availability. The project was developed by Ente Vasco de la Energía, the Basque Energy Board in Spain and is aground-breaking project, notably for multiple unit operation as there are 16 turbine -generators. Chief executive Matthew Seed joined the company in 2007. He said: “We’re delighted to have provided the technology for the first grid-connected wave power plant in Spain.
We’re thrilled to have achieved this level of success, not just for ourselves but as a lead for the whole marine energy sector. Mutriku is also the only multi-unit wave energy plant operating in the world. It’s a major milestone that really highlights just how far our technology has progressed in recent years.”
Matthew’s passion for wave energy stems from an oil and gas background which has taken him as far a field as Australia and New Zealand. He says being based in the Inverness office (skilled workforce of 17) brings many advantages: “The Scottish government has really paved the way in terms of developing the right environment for ocean energy. It has devolved powers for energy related issues so it can offer positive support for the marine energy sector, which could provide huge economic benefits for Scotland.
The national grid is regulated at a UK level, and although progress has been made, much better access is essential for the growth of the marine energy sector .The development of renewable energy projects in remote parts of the Highlands and Islands has resulted in a change in the function of parts of the national grid. Rather than distributing electricity to homes and businesses, it must now also collect very substantial generated power for transport on the wider grid network. This requires significant infrastructure upgrades and while some work has been done, the major upgrades are still in the very early stages.”
More than 70 per cent of the earth’s surface is covered by water .The World Energy Council estimates that the energy that can be taken from the world’s oceans is equal to twice the amount of electricity that the world currently produces.
Based on the company’s recent success and strong vision Matthew is optimistic about the future: “We also have state of the art wave power research and development facilities in Inverness which ensure that we know we have a quality product to offer .Our wave tank allows us to simulate a wide range of sea conditions at model scale, including site specific conditions measured with our own waverider buoy. For us to be certain that a product is ready for the commercial market it has to be thoroughly tested, and the reliability and performance proven so that we can provide guarantees to our customers.
“Reliability is key to all that we do – the environment demands this, as equipment cannot always be accessed for maintenance. At present we keep our equipment accessible from land via fixed structures, and we have no moving parts in the water .These factors are the foundation of our early success.
However, the big market is offshore, and equipment must be virtually fault-free to be successful in that environment. Wave power technology is relatively young compared to generating electricity from hydro or wind turbines. We’re also committed to harnessing wave power in away that is environmentally responsible and sustainable.”
Matthew continued: “Having secured a solid reputation we’re very much looking forward to building on that and ensuring that future generations have the skills required to take the industry forward. We have high hopes for further projects off the Western Isles so we are investing time and resources locally to boost understanding and knowledge of the technology, and to ensure that we have the relevant support in place. We’re working alongside UHI’s Lews Castle College to ensure that there is knowledge and expertise in our sector.
“There is enormous scope for wave power .It’s already been an amazing journey for me and the research and data from our current projects gives us real optimism and credibility for future sales.
“The optimum locations are generally west coasts with large ocean fetches, and where there is some developed electricity and support infrastructure. We are in discussion with a number of companies to develop projects in other parts of the world including France, Portugal, and South America. We are also exceptionally keen to develop closer to home where remote communities want to be more independent of distant fuel sources (often due to high cost).
“We currently have the Siadar Wave Energy Project on the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides. It’s an exciting proposal consisting of an ‘active breakwater’; purpose built for power production, which would harness energy from the Atlantic waves in Siadar Bay to generate 4MW of electricity, and up to 30MW in future. As we gain further experience and demonstrate the long term reliable operation of plants like Mutriku and Siadar, we can take the technology offshore. This is the big market, and we plan to deliver projects there with the same reliability, and with the same guarantees, which we have successfully delivered to date.”