interviews

Richard Parkinson, Managing Director of Mojo Maritime: "A Eureka moment has yet to happen for wave power"

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In this exclusive interview with Mojo Maritime’s Managing Director, Richard Parkinson, Renewable Energy Magazine discovers more about the state of the art that is wave and tidal energy. Richard Parkinson also gives us his views on where the industry needs to focus its efforts moving forward.

Established in Cornwall (England) in 2004, Mojo Maritime provides project management and consultancy services to the offshore renewable energy sector, and has built a successful track record on several high profile wave and tidal energy projects.

Mojo Maritime has worked with Ocean Power Technology to install the latter company’s Power Buoy wave energy converter at Santoña off the northern coast of Spain. The company has also helped Marine Current Turbines install and maintain its SeaGen tidal turbine in the narrows of Strangford Lough in Scotland.

It is also working as a project partner with this company to develop low cost, robust solutions to the challenge of installing foundations in high current areas. The study is currently focused on The Skerries Project - a 10.5MW tidal energy farm off the coast of the Welsh island of Anglesey. The location is a stretch of 25-metre deep open sea, boasting some of the fastest tidal currents in the UK.

Mojo Maritime has also been working with Tidal Energy Limited in producing a concept installation methodology for this company’s DeltaStream tidal energy converter into Ramsey Sound off the Pembrokeshire coast (Wales).

Richard Parkinson is Managing Director and owner of Mojo Maritime. A Master Mariner, with a background as Master on offshore construction vessels in the North Sea and West Africa. After working as a Project Manager and General Manager for a leading offshore construction and terminals operator, he acquired Mojo Maritime as a going concern in 2004 and turned the focus to the offshore renewable energy sector.

Interview date: November, 2010

Interviewer: Toby Price

To kick off the interview, could you describe the path Mojo Maritime took to move into the marine energy industry?

In 2004 I acquired the business in Cornwall, I had decided to try and shift my focus away from the oil and gas sector but to utilise the acquired skills in a more sustainable manner. Shortly after acquiring the business we were awarded some small projects on the Wave Hub Project in Cornwall. Following on from this we were awarded the role of owners engineer for a major wind farm project called Nordsee in the Netherlands. This role grew and led to other opportunities.

What are the main things customers such as Ocean Power Technology and Marine Current Turbines are looking for when they come to Mojo Maritime?

Many marine energy companies have limited resources and limited experience of offshore operations. Most of these companies have underestimated the costs and issues involved with offshore construction. We have acquired many years of experience in working in the offshore environment and can advise on all issues from design, installation, and contractual issues to add confidence to the client and their investors.

Essentially the client will have access to a very experienced offshore team that can integrate effectively with the client’s team and provide guidance on the processes leading ultimately to installation and operation of offshore devices.

The UK is currently leading the way in ocean energy R&D. Why, and do you envisage this leadership being maintained over the coming five to ten years? If not, why not?

I would expect the UK to lead the way in ocean energy, largely because of the skills base surrounding sub-sea engineering from the oil and gas sector. Offshore and sub-sea engineering is something that the UK leads the world in. I have to admit to being concerned about the current UK government commitment to maintaining the industry here in the UK, but as a business we are happy to work anywhere in the world.

Mojo Maritime is in an interesting position because it has been involved in ocean energy development in both Spain and the UK? What has it been like working in Spain to install the Power Buoy off the Cantabrian coast? From a planning perspective, is it quicker to get ocean energy devices in the water in Spain or the UK?

As a business we do not get very involved in planning and consent processes, focusing more on the offshore engineering elements. From an engineering perspective, working in the UK has benefits in that there are more resources such as specialised offshore companies, marine equipment etc.

I certainly observed less bureaucracy in Spain, although I cannot comment whether the environment will work better in Spain than UK. I guess it will come down to government support and incentives such as feed-in tariffs. The UK system of Renewable Obligation Certificates (ROCs) is not a good incentive for developers, and a feed-in tariff which directly benefits the developer and not the utilities will provide a much greater incentive for the developments.

Cornwall is a global wave energy leader with facilities such as Wave Hub and the Dynamic Marine Component Test Facility being the first of their kind anywhere in the world. Nevertheless, with full commercialisation of ocean energy still some way off and public funding being squeezed, what do you as an industry need to reach a point where widespread commercialisation of wave and tidal devices becomes possible in the UK?

As a viable concept, wave energy has still to prove itself. To date, there are no wave energy devices that are putting continual power to the grid in a cost effective and reliable manner. The Cost of Energy for wave remains unconvincing, whereas tidal power is accelerating rapidly towards commercialisation. Essentially wave energy needs a major technological breakthrough to add confidence to investors; this will only be achieved by a solid commitment to technology and innovation and avoidance of wasting money on developing infrastructure until the technology has proved it can be commercially viable.

What about in Spain? Clearly development of the 20-MW Biscay Marine Energy Platform (Bimep) for testing wave energy devices off the Basque coast will help ramp up the industry there, but what else is needed from the Spanish government and private industry to drive growth?

As I alluded to before, I think investing in infrastructure until we have proven technology is a waste of time and money. Better we focus on developing viable technology before massive infrastructure is developed. We already have facilities at the European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC) for wave energy and these are not fully utilised, while Wave Hub has four berths which are not currently leased. My view is that we need to focus on developing low cost test sites, support the developers, and create an environment where technology and innovation lead instead of wasting money on developing infrastructure for an industry which does not yet exist.

Your company has installed both wave and tidal energy converters. In your opinion, which of the two technologies will become market leader in the ocean energy sector and why?

Easy. Tidal power by a country mile. It has attracted much more interest and investment and is much closer to commercialisation. The Seagen in Strangford Lough is a classic example of a machine that is producing highly efficient power to the grid on a daily basis. Of course, tidal power is not without its challenges, but essentially the commercial case is convincing and the concept has been proven. This has yet to happen with wave power.

Finally, what would you say to Spanish investors or ocean energy developers reading this article to encourage them to invest in or work with the Cornish wave energy industry moving forward?

Focus on developing technology and innovation that can be developed cost effectively. Despite my negative sentiments previously, I remain convinced and hopeful that a breakthrough will be made, but I cannot help but feel that many of the existing concepts are flawed in terms developing technology towards cost efficient power production.

A Eureka moment has yet to happen for wave power, and the sector continually over promises and under-delivers. We need to step back and take an honest overview of the sector. We need to focus on proving the concept of commercially viable wave power and develop strategies for doing this. Material costs, survivability, reliability, O&M costs are the major barriers towards commercialisation. I still think there is a lot of scope for smaller developers with better concepts to enter the sector, and that we should focus on providing testing facilities that can test scaled prototypes and assist the developers with looking at reliability and survivability of their technologies.

We will need to continue providing government support but this should be focused on innovation and proof of concept (commercially viable technology), and avoid wasting money on the peripheral infrastructure and providing support to developers that have failed to deliver and lack transparency. If we achieve this and can demonstrate this in an open and honest manner, we have a viable industry.

For additional information:

Mojo Maritime

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