Fortum takes Wave Hub berth

Finnish utility Fortum has signed a breakthrough deal to deploy an array of full-scale wave power devices at the £30m ($47m) Wave Hub testing centre off south-west England, joining the UK’s Seatricity and the Energy Technologies Institute (ETI) as first leaseholders at the four-berth offshore facility.

Fortum, which has invested in a range of marine renewable energy (MRE) prototypes, is expected to trial compatriot Wello’s ship-shaped ‘Penguin’ concept – tested as a 500kW unit at the European Marine Energy Centre in the Scottish Orkneys – at Wave Hub next year.

“For Fortum it is important to be able to quickly move forward into actual full scale array testing of wave power converters once they have passed the first stages of evaluation,” says Fortum chief technology officer Heli Antila.

“The Wave Hub facility offers a unique opportunity to do this. As the site is consented, constructed and grid connected this significantly reduces the time it takes to get devices into the water. This is as much as ‘plug and play’ as it will get when it comes to power generation.”

The agreement with Fortum follows the announcement late in 2013 by Seatricity that it plans to develop a 10MW array of its ring-topped Oceanus devices “over the next two years” at Wave Hub, located 25km off the coast of Cornwall in the Celtic Sea.

The ETI aims to install a floating wind turbine prototype in 50 metres of water at Wave Hub in the same time frame. The Pelastar tension-leg platform, designed by US engineer Glosten and fitted with a 6MW Haliade 150 turbine from France’s Alstom, would be the first wind-power unit at the 48MW government-owned facility.

Wave Hub managing director Claire Gibson notes: “Wave Hub was designed to provide a crucial link in the development of wave device technology by offering the industry the opportunity for full scale array testing of devices.

“While much of the initial device design and development within the sector has been driven by individual developers, the direct involvement and investment by major utilities companies [such as Fortum] is likely to play a significant role in realising the potential of wave technology.”

UK business and energy minister Michael Fallon adds: “The government is committed to developing a dependable and sustainable energy mix. This partnership combines world-class private-sector skills and expertise with smartly targeted public investment in infrastructure, and could play a significant role in helping Britain commercialise a potent source of power [in wave energy].”

Wave Hub, first commissioned in 2010, was on the verge of becoming an MRE white elephant after many of wave power biggest names, including Ocean Power Technologies, one by one abandoned plans to test their proto-devices at the site, forcing the UK government to buy up the facility as a “nationally-important asset to develop the UK's marine renewables capacity”.