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Non-nuclear energy

Why are R&D needed for Ocean Energy Systems?

Fission and radiation protection

Artistic view of a Seaflow tidal current turbine
Why aren't OES systems in regular use?

The costs of present concepts are too high compared with conventional electricity generation. Prototypes have highlighted that installation difficulties are due more to logistic and civil engineering reasons than to the concept itself. Thus most of the existing technologies are still at the prototype testing stage and their availability, reliability and pre-commercial demonstration costs have not been validated.

Why do we need research?

  • OES could become a major contributor to electricity generation within the EU, particularly in remote regions with poor grid cover.
  • OES could make a major contribution to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, but sustainable energy production will only be viable if the energy production costs can be reduced to or below the costs of energy from conventional sources. R&D will play a key role in achieving this.
Artistic view of a twin rotor Seaflow tidal current turbine

What research is necessary for OES?

  • Component and infrastructure costs are the two major factors influencing OES installation economics. Sites that offer the best energy potential because of strong waves and currents are also difficult and dangerous to access, so there is a need for reliable and easily maintained components which could limit on-site work.
  • The long lead-up time between concept model testing in a wave tank and prototype testing in a marine environmental involves high technical and financial risks. There is a need for improved marine condition simulations to shorten the time needed to produce an operational system.

Why is EU support necessary?

  • The ability of EU industry to compete is a major issue to consider in a starting market. Currently, European SMEs are the driving force behind most R&D activities in Europe. They are assisted by research centres to address scientific and technical problems. Such research support as well as new policies on RES market penetration are necessary to maintain EU industry in that position.
  • Co-operation between the EU research Framework Programmes and those of Member States could help to achieve a critical mass and provide a complementary approach creating a greater synergy. In addition, standardisation of the technology will require a common EU approach.

Bottlenecks and barriers

Wave tank testing of a scale model of WaveDragon

What are the issues that need to be addressed?

Cost reduction: This can be achieved through component improvements, extended lifetimes, and improved tool and complete system design and efficiency.

What are the major technical barriers to be overcome?

  • High Cost: Research should be aimed at reducing both component and system costs.
  • Deployment: Installation represents the highest cost and risk. So it is necessary to develop cheap and safe deployment procedures for both personnel and equipment.
  • Design tools: Simulation tools should be developed to facilitate system design and development and reduce the time and cost needed to bring a concept to a marketable stage. This will require development of a complex marine model which could also be used in power generation capacity prediction, resource assessment and as a control strategy for autonomous operation.
  • Power offtake systems: A new power offtake system is designed and tested for each new ocean energy conversion concept. Therefore there is a need to improve the common tools available to speed up their development.

What are the major non-technical barriers to be overcome?

Energy market liberalisation means that with increased competition, energy companies will be reluctant to invest in new, risky, sustainable technologies. The technology then needs to become socially and economically acceptable.

What are the research priorities in this area?

The main long-term objective for Ocean Energy Systems is to achieve an electricity generation cost equal to or below that for electricity from conventional sources. Target costs are 0.08€/kWh by 2010 and 0.04€/kWh by 2020. Total installation costs should be below 1000€/kWe for economic viability. In order to achieve this research should be focused on:

- Autonomous operation with high degree of reliability and availability.
- Low operating and maintenance (O&M) costs and environmentally friendly life cycle systems.
- Reducing costs for existing shoreline concepts.
- Development of safe, reliable and easily deployed offshore systems.
- Advanced and reliable power offtake systems.
- Improved resource assessment and design tools.
- Development of new non-electric applications.
- Reduction of manufacturing and installation costs.
- System lifetime extension, improvements to reliability, efficiency and safety of the systems.
- In the future, more emphasis should be placed on the socio-economic aspects and benefits to be derived from the increased use of ocean energy power plants.

What are the costs for 2002?

These numbers are dependent on local conditions and concept type. The following data have been estimated from existing operational prototypes. They have not been extrapolated to commercial applications.

  • Wave Power, OWC Concept:(estimated from prototype results)
    - Installation cost: 10,000-20,000€/kWe
    - Electricity generation cost: 0.20-0.30€/kWe

  • Tidal Current: (estimated from prototype results)
    - Installation cost: 10,000-20,000€/kWe
    - Electricity generation cost: unknown

How much could it cost in the future?

These numbers have been estimated by extrapolating values for improvement and installation capacity.

capacity (Mwe)
cost (€/KWe)
cost (€/KWe)