Friday, September 26, 2008

Pelamis Wave Devices off Portugal

Pelamis Wave Power, based in Edinburgh, Scotland has placed three of a projected 28 machines in service offshore of Porto, Portugal. Each of the 142 meter long and 3.5 meter diameter bright red/orange articulated snake-like machines works by converting the waves or sea swells into power through the motion of internal pistons that move as the sea bends the devices at their joints. Here's a good video that shows the operation diagrammatically. See what Pelamis says here.

Each device is rated at 750kW, but it's not yet clear how much power will actually be generated in the specific environment. I'm also interested to see how the hold up over time in an environment than can be pretty rough: the open ocean (well, 3 miles offshore) with wave and wind fetch that stretches all the way to the US. Do they have a way to pull them out or temporarily submerge them if a large storm is threatening? Do they need to?

The installation was done by Babcock & Brown (who are also notable for having recently purchased Bluewater Wind, arguably now the leading developer of offshore wind energy, having signed a PPA with Delmarva.) Electricity is carried by submarine cable to the Portuguese electrical grid at the coastal town of Agu├žadoura, near Porto. The project takes advantage of a feed-in tariff of approximately 37 cents (US$). (That would be nice to have here in the US!)

The Portuguese are no slouches when it comes to renewable energy and providing the governmental support needed to attract and nurture new technologies and new industries. They already have one of the world's biggest wind farms in the north at Alto Minho, and a huge solar array near Moura in the south. They've expanded their wind capacity 4x and their hydroelectric 3x in the past 3 years. Portugal already gets a whopping 40% (or more) of its electricity from renewables! They're aiming for 60% by 2020. Amazing how a sense of national purpose and no local reserves of oil or coal can galvanize meaningful action. Even the Brits are chafing a bit at the UK-developed Pelamis having its commercial debut on the Continent. Says Greenpeace UK's chief scientist, Doug Parr: "Wave technology invented in Scotland is powering Portuguese homes and making money for Portuguese suppliers, because our government has consistently neglected the renewables industry here in the UK....It's time we stopped the rot before our performance on renewables becomes a national disgrace." Harsh words, and I would have to be much harsher living as I do in the US where energy policy remains firmly rooted in the past (notwithstanding the latest congressional efforts to renew the PTC--more on that in a later entry.)

It appears that the US, much more so than the UK, is poised to once again cede leadership, even ownership, to Europe of yet another renewable energy technology with global scope. It's tempting to say that things will get better here after the November election, but based on the sausage factory approach used on EPACT 2005 and more recently on the PTC extension I'm not too hopeful. We'll probably still have largely the same Congress next year, and the oil and gas lobby is awash in cash to help, er, fund their message.... (sigh)
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