Wave Energy Technology Signals New Approach to Renewable Sector: Systems Thinking

The governments’ signals to markets and businesses is clear from Cancun, ‘don’t wait for us, get greening on your own.’ In a market that’s still ‘risky’ and under-capitalized and receiving conflicting signals from the government, it’s important to look at the market with respect to systems thinking.

This is the position of Aquamarine, a wave energy firm in Scotland.  CEO Martin McAdam believes that the wave sector needs a rethink technologically and financially.

McAdam wishes to address two particular barriers to wave power: like other renewables there is an investment gap and the dominant strategy for collecting wave energy hasn’t yet emerged.

McAdam believes that his Oyster technology is the best chance of course,– with only seven moving parts it’s more easily scalable than wave technologies that sit on top of the water (the bigger these get, the more they rock and fail to capture energy), and they are more eco-friendly to habitats than turbines systems underwater. Best of all, the energy gathering and generating systems in Oyster are on-shore.

“We are inherently scalable,” McAdam says, “We don’t extract energy by bobbing up and down, we extract energy from the length of the wave crest.”

“A lot of money has gone into studying these things that bob up and down on the surface–too much money, in my opinion,” he continues, that it’s not that surface energy collectors have no application– they absolutely do, “but the fact is that if you want to deliver utility scale power, it’s not the solution that will do that for you.”

What’s more, he explains, the financial portfolio investment and energy companies themselves have failed to recognize the complementary power of wind and wave, “If you’re planning your network and you want to get the maximum contribution for renewable sources, mixing different renewable sources together makes a lot of sense.”

“The nice thing about wave is that it follows a similar pattern but it’s out of phase, it lags behind. So when the wind is at a peak, the wave is no longer, it’s just building up. When the wind drops off, the wave builds up.”

McAdam would like to see investors investing in wave whenever they invest in wind.

Investors seem to agree that Aquamarine might just have something: the company has just received £11 million in funding from multinational power company ABB and Scottish and Southern Energy and has awarded its Oyster 2 manufacturing contract to local company BiFAB.

Aquamarine’s US subsidiary has been awarded an exploratory contract for the state of Oregon’s coastline by the Oregon Wave Energy Trust.

Renewable companies in the UK would do well to work together. The market suffers from a lack of confidence, lack of cooperation between companies, and lack of capitalization (though many believe the capital required exists). These lacking factors are hurting everyone.

The industry is breaking down as every low-carbon energy technology company takes shots at the others in the battle for what little cleantech market funding there is (at least that’s the way it seems after the Guardian’s Cleantech Summit this year).

Jane Bennett, Professor of Political Science at Johns Hopkins, postulates that today, with more and more man-made systems, we often fail to see the full breadth of influence each component of a system has on our everyday lives.

A systems approach to renewables — well actually everything — is the best chance of efficiently using resources and implementing policy.

What other systems, inherent in an emerging renewable energy systems have we quite thought through?

Ann Danylkiw is a freelance writer and digital media producer. Her background is Finance and Development Economics.While writing for Triple Pundit, she is currently producing her first social experiment / digital documentary, the 21HoursExperiment.com.Ann lives in London but visits 'home' in Wisconsin during the summer.

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