ocean energy

“I would expect the UK to lead the way in ocean energy”

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According to Richard Parkinson, owner and Managing Director of ocean energy installer, Mojo Maritime, the UK is well placed to ramp up its nascent wave and tidal industry, and continue to lead the way, thanks to “the skills base surrounding sub-sea engineering from the oil and gas industry”. Parkinson made these comments to Renewable Energy Magazine during an exclusive interview associated with the recent press tour of Cornwall’s offshore energy industry organised by UKTI.

A Master Mariner, with a background as Master on offshore construction vessels in the North Sea and West Africa, Richard Parkinson acquired Mojo Maritime as a going concern in 2004. He quickly refocused the company’s activity toward the provision of project management and consultancy services to the offshore renewable energy sector.

Mojo Maritime entered the ocean energy sector after being awarded a number of minor projects associated with the Wave Hub Project, and since then has gone on to gain a name for itself in the burgeoning wave and tidal sector. The company has helped Ocean Power Technology to install its Power Buoy wave energy converter at Santoña off the northern coast of Spain, and has also installed and maintains Marine Current Turbines’ SeaGen tidal turbine in the narrows of Strangford Lough in Scotland.

“Most of these companies have underestimated the costs and issues involved with offshore construction,” explains Parkinson. “Essentially, we provide guidance on the processes leading ultimately to installation and operation of offshore devices.”

The UK is already taking a lead in the wave and tidal sector, through the work of companies such as Ocean Power Technology and Marine Current Turbines, and Parkinson expects it will continue to lead the way in ocean energy. Nevertheless, he does admit to “being concerned about the current UK government commitment to maintaining the industry here in the UK”, and would like to see thought being given to how public support can help the UK maintain its leadership in this industry, which has such great potential. “The UK system of Renewable Obligation Certificates (ROCs) is not a good incentive for [wave and tidal] developers, and a feed-in tariff which directly benefits the developer and not the utilities will provide a much greater incentive,” believes Parkinson.

However, Mojo’s MD is quick to warn that it shouldn’t just be about throwing money at the industry: “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”.

Wave energy at a cross roads

Parkinson believes too much focus has been given to developing the infrastructure for wave energy, before proven technologies have been developed and he argues that it is time for reflection. “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,” he says.

Parkinson’s views on tidal power are different. He believes that while wave power has yet to experience a “Eureka moment”, which will drive it towards commercialisation, tidal energy is much closer to market. “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,” he suggests.

“Wave energy continually over promises and under-delivers,” claims Parkinson. “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.”

Despite his reservations, Richard Parkinson still thinks there is a lot of scope for smaller developers with better concepts to enter the wave energy 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”.

“If we achieve this and can demonstrate this in an open and honest manner, we have a viable industry,” he concludes.

The full interview with Richard Parkinson is available here:

Exclusive interview with Richard Parkinson, Mojo Maritime

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