Brussels, 13 Nov 2003
The WaveNet thematic network, established by the Commission to share European understanding on the development of ocean energy systems, has produced a comprehensive report on the status of wave energy technologies and the challenges facing the industry.
The first patent on a wave energy device was granted in France in 1799, but serious attempts to harness the power of the sea only began in the 1970s. However, much of the work carried out over the last three decades has been confined to national programmes, and a European response was needed to overcome this perceived lack of collaboration.
WaveNet was launched in April 2000 and received funding of nearly 600,000 euro over three years under the Fifth Framework Programme's energy, environment and sustainable development subsection. The network brought together 14 academic, industrial and research partners from nine EU countries: Sweden, Greece, France, the UK, Denmark, Ireland, the Netherlands, Portugal and Italy.
The activities of the network have resulted in a number of outputs, including a website that provides extensive information on various wave energy topics, and increased collaboration among the various actors in Europe. The major achievement of WaveNet, however, is the publication of a far reaching report on the current status and future prospects of wave energy technology, compiled jointly by the consortium members.
The 478 page final report tackles five areas of central importance to the development of a wave energy industry: social planning and environmental impact; financing and economics; generic technologies; research and development (R&D); and cooperation with the power industry. It also provides an overview of previous EU initiatives relating to wave energy, including demonstration projects and pilot initiatives.
Within the social planning and environmental impact section of the report, the issue of public acceptability of wave energy is examined. As the number of deployed ocean energy devices is still very low, however, many of the conclusions draw on the experiences of other renewable technologies, primarily wind energy.
The report concludes that 'An open public dialogue from the very beginning of a planning phase is important for achieving social acceptance,' although exactly what form such dialogues take can vary from country to country, and from region to region. If mistakes are made at an early stage of deployment, the report warns, it may prove very difficult to gain the acceptance of the majority of the population.
By far the biggest barrier to public acceptance of wave energy, however, is its low public profile in most EU countries. 'Before it becomes relevant to discuss [...] strategies for public involvement on a larger scale, it is necessary that the energy becomes known to the public as a huge, important and reliable source of energy.'
The overall environmental impact of wave energy technologies is expected to be very low, especially when compared with fossil fuel based methods. However, the report identifies potentially negative consequences such as noise, risk of collision with ships, visual impact, and changes in the underwater sediment structure, which it says will require further research before the large scale deployment of wave energy technologies.
Due to the early stage of development of most ocean energy technologies, research priorities are identified in almost all areas associated with the industry. Further investigations into the components that convert ocean movement into energy are high on the list of priorities, but more fundamentally, scientists must discover more about how waves actually behave, and how component reliability and survival in storm conditions can be achieved.
While it is clear that huge efforts are still required in order to make the dream of clean and cheap energy from the ocean a reality, initiatives such as WaveNet can only increase its chances of success. By pooling all the available knowledge on wave energy, drawing lessons from other renewables industries, and strengthening international collaboration in the field, WaveNet hopes to lay the foundations of an energy industry for the new millennium.
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