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How Much Trouble Is Wave Power Worth?

A lot of figurative-ink has been spent on the possible value of tidal and wave energy rounding out the renewable energy market, but Bloomberg New Energy Finance’s Chief Editor Angus McCrone recently discussed these technologies as more trouble than they’re worth.

Appearing on Bloomberg’s “The Pulse,” McCrone got into just how much trouble these technologies are worth, and whether they have a sustainable, large-scale future.

The answer, according to McCrone, seems to be no.

Turbulent Waters

We’ve covered a lot of wave and tidal power stories over the years. Our very first story about wave power was back in September of 2008, with the news that Portugal had debuted the world’s first commercial wave energy farm at the Agucadoura station. Sadly, and as would prove to be somewhat prophetic, the Agucadoura wave power units malfunctioned, were towed in to be repaired, but were never redeployed, ending the world’s first commercial wave energy farm.

Fast forward six years and there seems to have been no improvement in the fortunes of marine power. Bloomberg New Energy Finance reported in early December that Pelamis Wave Power (the developers of the afore-mentioned Agucadoura wave energy farm) “had run out of money,” and only days later Siemens AG announced that it would be selling Marine Current Turbines. Around the same time, Pelamis’ rival Aquamarine Power announced it is to “significantly downsize” its business.

“Only a few companies remain with financial backing and promising projects, and more casualties are likely,” said Angus McCrone at the time.

“This is the capitalist survival-of-the-fittest process working as normal in any new market area,” McCrone said. “It also reflects the fact that venture capital investors have become much more realistic about the difficulties involved in proving a new power technology in the harsh environment of the sea.”

Competing Siblings

To be fair, the problem does seem to exist more with wave/ocean energy systems rather than tidal systems. At the same time as BNEF was reporting the bad news, France announced approval for two separate tidal projects in the Raz Blanchard — one to be developed by a joint venture between GDF Suez and Alstom, the other to be developed by a group consisting of EDF, DCNS, and OpenHydro.

This was the latest in a string of stories over the last few months demonstrating tidal energy’s attractiveness. In August, two separate announcements in the tidal stream industry were made — the first by Atlantis Resources, which raised $83 million for the world’s largest tidal stream farm to be deployed in the Pentland Firth; the second by Atlantis again, which announced mere days later that it had been awarded approval to expand its nascent Pentland Firth project.

“MeyGen will be the biggest tidal stream array in the world, providing enough electricity for 175,000 homes and 100 green jobs when created,” UK Energy Secretary Ed Davey said in the statement. “Wave and tidal power have the potential to provide more than 20 percent of the U.K.’s electricity needs.”

In September, figures provided by trade body Scottish Renewables placed the Scottish wave and tidal energy sector investments at over £217 million, with £31.8 million spent over the previous 12 months.

“Wave and tidal energy is still very much the renewables new kid on the block, but the opportunities it presents are enormous, particularly for Scotland,” said Lindsay Leask, Senior Policy Manager for offshore renewables at Scottish Renewables.

Last Ditch Effort?

Wave energy isn’t throwing in the towel yet, however, despite all the trends. Over the space of two days at the end of November, two big names looked to boost the wave energy industry.

Scotland’s Energy Minister Fergus Ewing announced plans to create “Wave Energy Scotland,” a new body designed to “accelerate” development of the industry.

The US Navy is also shelling out quite a bit of cash in the hopes of developing a legitimate wave energy technology, backing Columbia Power Technologies’ new StingRAY wave energy converter.

And while these examples might appear to be good news for the industry, one can’t help but see them as what they are — isolated examples in a very tough industry, facing economic, technological, and environmental challenges, despite all the positive thinking the industry can muster.

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