UK on its way to feed wave energy into national grid

May 24, 2001 02:00 AM

If less than 0.1 % of the renewable energy within the oceans of the world could be converted into electricity, it would satisfy the present world demand for energy more than five times over. And in the UK alone it has been estimated that the recoverable wave energy resource exceeds total UK electricity demand.
The fact that on Islay the world's first commercial wave power station has successfully fed into the United Kingdom's national grid means that the UK is now on the way, and David Langston, the business development manager of the Inverness-based Wavegen, which has developed the Islay facility in partnership with Queen's University, Belfast, believes that the wave energy business can do for Scotland what the oil and gas sector has already done.
The Western Isles Council has been early to spot the opportunity and has been working with the government, industry and academia in an effort to have the islands designated an Energy Innovation Zone, seeing it as a marvellous opportunity for the Western Isles to be the centre for renewable energy, bringing with it the economic means for the islands to stand on their own feet.

Small tidal mills have been used in Britain and elsewhere since the Middle Ages. The first wave energy device was patented in 1799. Yet, the ability to harness the massive potential of the sea on an industrial scale has eluded engineers and scientists until relatively recently.
Wave energy is only part of the renewable energy scene. Wind energy makes a strong claim and there is also solar energy, plus energy crops, waste to energy and landfill gas. The British Wind Energy Association, which represents approximately 150 companies involved in the UK wind energy business, reckons that the UK will have 2,005 MW of wind energy operating by the end of 2005. The turbines would produce an estimated 5.7 bn units of electricity each year, equivalent to almost 1.6 % of the total electricity supply of the UK and meeting the power demands of the government of one and a quarter mm households.
It projects a total of 8,000 new jobs in this sector, with the potential to rise to more than 35,000. The UK has the largest wind resource in Europe, an estimated 40 % of the total European wind resource, with the offshore resources alone sufficient to power the country nearly three times over. According to Nick Goodall, the CEO of the association: "From time to time critics of renewable energy say it is not possible to achieve significant volumes of electricity from technologies such as wind power.
But as we've seen in Germany and Spain that is simply not the case. "We are building for our future with a fuel which is clean, Green and sustainable: What's more, there's more of it in the UK than anywhere else in Europe."

The government wants to make it easier for companies to build offshore wind farms. At the moment developers face up to seven steps to gain the approval they need, but in a consultation paper the government has proposed to make the Department of Trade and Industry a "one-stop shop" for offshore developers.
The paper was issued just after British Energy, the nuclear power generator, announced it would be beginning the development of large-scale offshore wind power in a joint venture with Renewable Energy Systems, one of the largest wind power companies in Europe. The government wants renewable energy sources, such as offshore wind power, to produce 10 % of the country's electricity by 2010. Under its renewables obligation, a consultation document published in October, £ 89 mm has been available for renewable energy projects.
The DTI is considering long-term investment of more that £ 6 bn in offshore wind farms to take advantage of the fact that the UK is one of the windiest countries in Europe and has enough offshore wind to supply three times the country's current electricity requirements.

It is claimed that wind energy is one of the most popular energy technologies. Opinion surveys regularly show that just over eight out of 10 people are in favour of wind energy and less than one in ten -- about 5 % -- are against it.
Wind energy is also one of the safest energy technologies. No member of the public has been injured by wind energy or wind turbines anywhere in the world, despite the fact that there are now around 35,000 operational wind turbines. There is no evidence to suggest that wind farms detract tourists -- and, it is claimed, many wind farms have, in fact, become tourist attractions.
Popular and safe they might be with the public but that is not always the case with the planners. The attitudes of the local authorities throughout Scotland vary considerably when it comes to planning applications for wind farms -- the Borders, for example -- have been particularly severe and in some areas where there are opposition groups to wind farms groups supporting wind farms have started sprouting.
A keen observer of the wind farm scene, Neil Collar, a partner in the Edinburgh firm of solicitors, Brodies, said: "The Scottish executive has put some work into trying to make it easier for get planning permission by producing updated guidelines but it has really been very much a matter of gentle persuasion but it has now reached the stage where more radical solutions are required."

Stuart Porteous, an economist with the Royal Bank of Scotland, said there was around 200 MW of wind farm electricity capacity in the UK in June last year, equivalent to 24 % of total renewable capacity. In line with the European Commission's directive on renewable energy the UK government had adopted a target of increasing renewable share of electricity consumed to 5 % by 2003 and to 10 % by 2010, as compared with around 1.5 % in 1999. Porteous added: "One of the biggest constraints is planning permission, particularly for onshore wind farms.
"However, planning permission is less of a problem for offshore wind farms. Eighteen wind farm developers have pre-qualified for thirteen leases of seabed around England and Wales to develop offshore wind farms. It is expected that these wind farms will result in between 1 GW and 1.5 GW of additional capacity. "
Onshore wind farms are relatively competitive. Costs have fallen from 8.6 pence per kWh in 1992 to an average of 2.88 per kWh for the new farms coming on line now. They are among the most competitive renewable energy plants and are less expensive than some new coal plants. Offshore wind farms and energy crops remain uncompetitive and will require government subsidies to become competitive.

The DTI is planning to offer subsidies of up to 40 % of costs, up to a maximum of £ 10 mm per project. It says it is introducing two additional policy instruments to encourage electricity supply companies to comply with the new obligations. The new obligations include an option for suppliers to buy out their obligations by making a payment to the electricity regulator.
The DTI is also planning to introduce a system of tradable renewable obligation certificates, whereby supply companies who have bought more than 10 % of electricity from renewable sources will be able to sell surplus certificates to other supply companies.

Source: The Scotsman Online
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