Wave generating companies pull the plug on 'economic sinkhole'

Wave Hub has declared the wave energy business was
Wave Hub has declared the wave energy business was "unfortunately taking longer to develop" (Photo: G. Ewens)
Wave Hub’s HQ, built to house offices for the generating companies (Photo: G. Ewens)
Wave Hub’s HQ, built to house offices for the generating companies (Photo: G. Ewens)

Two international companies lined up to produce electricity from UK's first ever wave farm have pulled out of the project, while another is having second thoughts reports Graeme Ewens.

In addition, the only company that has installed functioning equipment at Cornwall's Wave Hub has dismissed the 10-year old scheme as a 'sinkhole'. Wave Hub, a £42m undersea electrical socket was installed 16km off Hayle in 2010 to test up to four wave energy devices with capacity to produce 48MW, but has not yet generated any electricity.

In December 2016, MJ reported that the Australian company Carnegie Wave Energy would be commissioning their CETO 'submerged buoy' project some time this year, delivering 15MW of electricity in 2020, powering up to 6,000 homes in its early stages. However, Carnegie, which was awarded a £9.55m grant from the European Regional Development Fund, will continue developing its technology in Australia and will not be returning to Cornwall soon. The mainly Scandinavian consortium Wello Penguin have also returned to their previous development site in Orkney, while an American company Gwave, due to plug a large-scale device into Wave Hub this summer, has postponed its involvement for at least two years.

The former boss of Seatricity, the only home-grown and self-funded operator, has declared the scheme could turn out to be an expensive 'white elephant' and an 'economic sinkhole'.

The scheme was financed by the European Regional Development Fund Convergence Programme (£20m) with £12.5m from the South West of England Regional Development Agency (SWERDA) and £9.5m from the UK Government. It is managed by Cornwall Council.

Original studies favoured the creation of the world's first offshore facility to test wave energy devices and "bridge the difficult gap between production prototypes and full commercial wave farms." The next stage of developing a functioning industry follows the 'proof of concept' stage, when companies need to scale up and make it a commercial proposition. As well as demanding more R&D to overcome the engineering challenges in a hostile environment, industry insiders reckon that this has become a political issue, especially as there is now zero subsidy in the offshore renewables sector.

Andrew Bristow, former boss of Seatricity believes the Wave Hub is conceptually flawed and located in the wrong place. He told the BBC: "Seatricity invested up to £2.5m of its own money into Cornwall to develop a wave energy device which we proved works . . . while receiving not a penny of public funding support." Seatricity was intending to plug in an array of its Oceanus pressurised seawater devices to generate 10MW of electricity but the company's private investors have backed out.

Mr Bristow added: "I am sad that vast public investment into a viable wave energy industry which could still have been world leading has been squandered. I feel that it is money that could have been more wisely invested."

Carnegie has stated that grant support and the feed-in tariff support for wave energy had been removed over the last two years "and that has led to the situation we have today where we have a world-class piece of infrastructure in Cornwall and no wave technologies like Carnegie operating". The company said wave energy resources were "exceptional" in the UK and local expertise was "world leading" but they receive better support in their home country.

Wave Hub has declared the wave energy business was "unfortunately taking longer to develop" than anticipated but it was "delighted" Irish firm Ocean Energy Ltd (OEL) is expected to deploy a full-scale device at the hub. "We are also looking to diversify use of the site by applying for consent to install a single floating offshore wind demonstrator."

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