Waving hello to wind at Wave Hub

17 September 2018

A wave energy converter demonstration site off the UK’s coast is under pressure after delivering little tangible return on a decade of work and more than £40 million of investment. Could a move towards floating offshore wind throw a lifeline to Wave Hub? David Appleyard

The UK’s wave energy ambitions were dealt a blow earlier this year with the news that a key wave power technology developer is now planning to move its test design to Australia.

Carnegie had been expected to connect its CETO devices to the Wave Hub test bed facility located off the north Cornish coast 16 km off Hayle in the Atlantic ocean. However, in a change to its plans Carnegie has decided instead to demonstrate its CETO 6 device at a site in Australia before heading to UK waters.

The move left the Wave Hub installation without any takers for its four grid connection berths and, to some critics at least, looking like an embarrassing and expensive mistake for its backers and investors.

The Wave Hub demonstrator

Designed to support the demonstration and testing of wave energy technology, Wave Hub was first commissioned in 2010. The purpose built cable connection point has a 30 MW export capacity, upgradable to 48 MW, and operates at either 11 kV or 33 kV. However, it has not succeeded in exporting any power to the mainland grid so far. Indeed, in keeping the cable connection energised the device has apparently consumed power.

Supported by an £18 million investment from the European Regional Development Fund and more than £15 million from the South West of England Regional Development Agency, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Department of Energy and Climate Change, total funding to the project is estimated at around £42 million to date.

But, so far Wave Hub has succeeded in installing just a single device, which was commissioned in May 2016. This was the Oceanus design by Seatricity which uses a high pressure hydraulic pump and a pipeline to generate power on shore and, somewhat ironically, does not therefore require an export cable.

Since becoming operational in 2010, Wave Hub has failed to secure significant industry backing. Critics of the installation argue that an offshore socket and 16 km export cable is not what is required by the nascent wave power industry, which is why the installation has failed to garner the anticipated uptake from wave energy technology developers.

Wave goodbye

Despite these perceived technical issues, Carnegie Clean Energy had been expected to install its 1 MW CETO 6 device at the Wave Hub site this year. Now though it is to first install the device off the coast of Albany in Western Australia.

The move follows on from the award of a state government grant worth A$15.75 million (US$11.75 million) while the University of Western Australia was further awarded a further A$3.75 million (US$2.78 million) for the development of a Wave Energy Research Centre, also in Albany.

Installed at Sandpatch, power is to be exported into the South West Interconnected System. Commenting on the development WA Minister for Regional Development, Alannah MacTiernan, reportedly said: “The wave energy technology project could make the Great Southern a hub for marine renewable energy expertise, bring long- term economic benefits and create regional jobs in this growing sector.”

With close to A$20 million in funding coming from the state government, the Albany project will be the first commercial- scale wave farm in Australia, Carnegie says. Delivered in stages, an initial 1 MW unit is expected to be followed by a 20 MW array that in turn could lead to a 100 MW expansion. Installation of the 1 MW device is anticipated during the 2019-2020 summer weather window.

Nonetheless, although Carnegie’s initial focus for deployment will now centre on Australia it is still moving ahead with its Wave Hub plans. Carnegie says it views Wave Hub as a world-leading demonstration facility while its UK based subsidiary, CETO Wave Energy UK, and Wave Hub Ltd have signed a Memorandum of Understanding to progress development of a CETO array at Wave Hub following the Albany Project. MOUs have also been inked with James Fisher Marine Services and Plymouth University. These activities will focus on site development, array planning, and operational and maintenance requirements for wave energy systems, the company says. “Successful delivery of Albany Wave Energy Project (AWEP) will allow Carnegie to proceed towards delivery of a CETO array project at the Wave Hub site,” it stated.

Over A$140 million (US$104 million) has been invested to fund the development of the CETO technology so far. Some £9.6 million of this came from the European Regional Development Fund which formed 65% of the funding for the first phase of its planned 15 MW commercial wave energy project at Wave Hub – to design, construct, install and operate a single 1 MW grid-connected CETO 6. Commissioning was set for 2018, followed by 12 months of operations. The second stage of CETO development at Wave Hub had envisaged a 15 MW commercial array due for installation around 2020-2021.

“The United Kingdom offers unique advantages for the commercialisation of CETO. This funding from the European Regional Development Fund is a prime example of the funding support available that is accompanied by marine energy revenue support, experienced supply chains, demonstration sites such as Wave Hub and deep investment knowledge in the renewable energy sector,” noted Carnegie’s managing director and CEO, Dr Michael Ottaviano, at the grant award in late 2016.

WaveHub prospects

Ownership of Wave Hub was transferred to Cornwall Council in April 2017 when the Council received around £14 million to cover ongoing operations, support for the marine renewables sector and decommissioning costs as part of the transfer arrangements with the Department of Business Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS).

In the wake of the Carnegie decision to initially deploy at Albany, Helen Wilson- Prowse, head of Business Services at Wave Hub Ltd, said: “Although the wave energy sector has not developed as quickly as originally hoped, the Wave Hub team continue to explore alternative technologies. Cornwall is home to a number of world-leading marine technology and logistics companies which continue to grow and thrive, benefiting from the growth of the marine renewables sector in the UK and beyond.”

Indeed, perhaps acknowledging the potential challenges associated with commercialising wave energy, in March this year Wave Hub Ltd issued an invitation to tender for a floating LiDAR to record wind resource data for the Wave Hub offshore site. The primary data requirement is the supply of 12 months of accurate wind profile data suitable to conduct the commercial energy yield assessment and thereafter secure investment for the development of floating wind at the site. This forms part of a wider programme of work to diversify the site to support the demonstration of floating wind in addition to wave energy, Wave Hub said in a company statement.

Despite the fact that marine renewables is seen as a cornerstone of regional development plans, the lack of success for Wave Hub is seen by some as a poor reflection of wave power prospects in Cornwall and the rest of the UK. It is a perception the industry is keen to dispel.

Trade group RenewableUK’s head of External Affairs, Luke Clark, told MPS: “The UK is a global leader in the development of marine energy, including wave power. Our world-class testing facilities, including Wave Hub in Cornwall, demonstrate the huge potential for this innovative technology. The next step is to find a route to full commercialisation – that means identifying ways to secure funding, and working with government to ensure the right framework is in place to provide revenue support at this crucial stage of development. Otherwise the long-term economic benefits of technology developed here in the UK could be lost to other countries”. There’s no doubt about the size of the prize for commercialising ocean energy. According to Ocean Energy Europe, the ocean energy industry plans to deploy around 100 GW of production capacity across Europe by 2050. 

Cable laying at the WaveHub site off Cornwall
Seatricity’s Oceanus wave energy machine

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