Wave energy developers report advances in Portugal, Spain

Rival wave energy developers reported project advances September 23 in Portugal and Spain, each claiming to have the world's first commercial power plant converting the energy of sea waves into electricity.

Portuguese utility Energias de Portugal (EDP) announced formal launching of the 2.25-MW Agucadoura wave farm off the northern coast of Portugal. (HNN 6/16/08) EDP is a partner in the project, whose first phase cost about 8.5 million euros (US$12.55 million).

Three articulated steel "sea-snakes" developed by Scotland-based Pelamis Wave Power are moored to the seabed three miles off Portugal. The three Pelamis units, each about the length of a nuclear submarine, generate a total of 2.25 MW, enough to supply 1,500 households with electricity.

"It's logged into the national grid, which makes it the world's first commercial wave power project," said Anthony Kennaway, a spokesman for another partner, Babcock and Brown. The investment firm runs the Agucadoura project.

A total of 25 semi-submerged Pelamis units should be installed in the next few years, boosting the wave park capacity to 21 MW, Kennaway said.

The machines, each 140 meters long and 3.5 meters in diameter, are positioned head-on towards the waves so that their sections move with the waves. Each joint of the Pelamis contains a hydraulic pump, which pumps high-pressure liquid through motors that in their turn drive power generators. The energy is then transmitted to a substation on shore via subsea cables.

The Agucadoura project is supported by a government feed-in tariff equivalent to approximately 0.23 euros (33.7 US cents) per kWh. Feed-in tariffs provide long-term incentives to invest in renewable energy. Under the system used in many countries, national power utilities are ordered by governments to buy, or feed in, from renewable energy sources at above market rates.

"The price is not competitive at the moment and the project was possible because of the feed-in tariff in Portugal, which basically allows (us) to continue developing the technology,� Kennaway said. �... But we hope that in 15 years wave power will be where wind is now, that is extremely competitive."

EDP and engineering firm EFACEC each took a 15.4 percent stake in the project. Babcock, which has been trying to sell its European energy assets to boost liquidity, reduced its share to 46.2 percent from 75 percent and Pelamis Wave Power to 23 percent from 25 percent.

EDP, Babcock, and EFACEC also set up a joint company called "Waves of Portugal" to focus on the development of experimental wave energy projects. Renewable energy, including hydropower, accounts for 40 percent of power consumption in Portugal. Some experts say wave energy could meet up to 20 percent of the country's needs in the future.

"Portugal could be for wave power what Denmark was for wind," Kennaway added.

Ocean Power deploys first unit of Spain's 1.39-MW Santona

U.S-based wave-power developer Ocean Power Technologies (OPT) said September 23 it had deployed its first commercial wave-power generator in Spain, part of the 1.39-MW Santona wave energy project.

The 40-kW PowerBuoy, which converts wave motion into electricity, was deployed under contract with Spanish utility Iberdrola at Santona in Spain's Cantabria Region, OPT Chief Operating Officer Mark Draper said. (HNN 3/26/08) Fabricated in nearby Santander, Spain, with a power take-off and control system built by OPT in the U.S., the PowerBuoy is seven meters in diameter at the sea surface, 20 meters in length, and weighs 60 tons.

As noted by Iberdrola, deployment of the PowerBuoy unit �is the latest milestone toward the building of the world's first commercial utility-scale wave power generation venture to supply approximately 1.39 MW of electricity into Spain's electricity grid.�

OPT has a tentative deal to develop nine more powerful versions of the buoy over the next year and eventually create a PowerBuoy farm for Iberdrola, capable of generating enough energy to supply up to 2,500 homes annually.

"Iberdrola have always been a big wind player and they are an early mover into wave," Draper said. "It still has to be finalized, but the project has been scoped out to the full nine."

Iberdrola Energias Marinas de Cantabria S.A., a joint venture of OPT, Iberdrola, and French energy company Total S.A., signed a turnkey contract in 2006 with OPT to build the first phase of the Santona (also called Cantabria) wave power plant five miles off Santona. The joint venture is to purchase the power station from OPT, which is to operate and maintain the plant for up to ten years.

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