Thursday, 26 November 2009

Wave Power: The World's Your Oyster!

A study into the feasibility of tidal power in Jersey has been commissioned. The Environment Department is measuring the tidal flow off the north east coast of the island and finding out whether the seabed is suitable for turbines. Mike Taylor, from the Fisheries and Resources Advisory Panel, said plans to use tidal power to generate electricity were only in the very early stages. He said tidal power in Jersey was "a long way off" and more technological advances were needed. Mr Taylor said the panel wanted to build a tidal power plant that was entirely underwater, with turbines on the seabed that generated electricity as the current passed through them.  It's just a germ of an idea and might not happen at all. "At the moment the idea is that you would see no structures coming out the water." But he said no such structure currently existed anywhere in the world. "So one would have to see how technology pans out," he told BBC Jersey,  "It's just a germ of an idea and it might not happen at all. "If it was to happen it might be 15 or 20 or 25 years away when energy prices possibly are much dearer," he added. (1)

I heard the substance of this with the interview Mr Taylor gave to Roger Bara this morning. One thing struck me, because it was repeated twice on BBC Radio Jersey, that Mr Taylor said "no such structure currently existed anywhere in the world".

Yet reported two days ago, on the 24 November 2009, a news story broke that:

Aquamarine Power activated the connection of the Oyster in the waters off Orkney, marking one of the few ocean power devices to be producing electricity.  The device is a hydraulic pump operated by a "hinged flap," where a large metal piece moves back and forth from the motion of the waves. The movement moves a hydraulic piston that pumps water underground to a hydro-electric turbine that drives a generator to make electricity. The peak power output of the Oyster 1 is about two megawatts, depending on the location. The company, which received research funding from the U.K. government, is now working on a second-generation device. There are a number of technologies being pursued to convert wave or tidal energy into electrical energy, including underwater generators. The advantage of the pump design is that it's relatively simple and many components, such as gear boxes and generators, are not exposed to the water. Twenty Oysters, which are attached to the seabed at about 10 meters of water, could produce enough electricity to power 9,000 homes in the U.K., according to Aquamarine Power. (2)

Why the Oyster is significant is because there are a considerable number of technologies being developed to use wave power, they haven't been used commercially. The research and development is coming on line, but nothing currently exists apart from the Oyster in the commercial field. It is linked to the electricity grid and is producing power now:

Research in ocean energy is active, with most of it done in the U.K. There are a number of pilot projects in the works which, if completed, would total 650 megawatts of electricity production. That's roughly the size of one coal or natural gas power plant. But charting the course from prototype to grid-connected generator has proven tricky, according to a number of speakers at an event last week hosted by the UK Trade and Investment initiative, Flagship Ventures, and Greentech Media. "The challenges have been greater and the timelines have all slipped. It hasn't been an easy ride so far," said Andrew Mill, CEO of the U.K.'s New and Renewable Energy Center (NaREC). "Most of the devices to date haven't actually reached the water." (3)

The Oyster is different because "it is currently the world's only hydroelectric wave energy device producing power"(4). It has mad the leap from experimental prototype to commercial application. That is not to say that there will not be others devices, but it does mean that Mike Taylor's knowledge is just a tad out of date, because it was officially launched by Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond MP, MSP at the European Marine Energy Centre in Orkney last week.

Who knows - perhaps Jersey may benefit from a different kind of Oyster industry?


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