It has been a period of significant turbulence for Scotland’s wave energy sector.
At the start of this month German utility giant E.ON announced it was pulling out of its long-term tie up with Edinburgh-based Pelamis Wave Energy.
The two companies had been working together to test one of Pelamis’s snake-like wave energy converter devices at the European Marine Energy Centre in Orkney.
But that relationship has now dissolved after the ‘big six’ power company became frustrated at delays in technology development and decided to switch its focus to what it described as the ”more mature” renewable technologies wind, biomass and solar.
E.ON has not ruled out returning to wave power in future but its decision to walk away at what is a critical time for the development of the sector in the UK could not be seen as anything but a significant blow to the wider industry’s prospects.
Fast-forward a couple of weeks and that nagging feeling in the pit of my stomach which was brought on by E.ON’s pull-out had started to return.
A glance at the latest accounts filed by Pelamis rival Aquamarine Power, and it was clear not all was well at the mill.
The Edinburgh-based firm, which has been a leading player in the wave sector through the development of its Oyster 800 machine, posted pre-tax losses of more than £35 million for the year to the end of March. This was more than five times the £6m loss the company made the previous year, but it was perhaps how it was racked up rather than the fact it was that was most alarming.
Aquamarine’s directors signed off on a multi-million-pound writedown in the value of the company’s assets as a result of what it described as significant uncertainty for the sector and the fact it was taking longer to prove and commercialise its own technologies than originally expected.
The firm cited uncertainty over the strike price for wave energy under electricity market reform (EMR), a lack of available capital grants, and high transmission charges for offshore projects based in the outer Scottish islands as being behind the move.
Aquamarine insists there have been significant improvements in the outlook for the industry since its accounts were filed.
But it remains troubling that two of Scotland’s showcase wave energy projects have found themselves caught up in such choppy waters in the first place.
The pursuit of renewable energy on an industrialised scale both onshore and offshore in the UK was never going to be anything but a bumpy ride.
The Government has a major role to play in steadying the ship for the wave sector by providing the correct environment for innovation, research and development.
The reforms which will be brought forward under EMR, one of the most eagerly anticipated and potentially impactful pieces of legislation in recent years, are key to that goal.
We can only wait and hope that when the final EMR recommendations are brought forward later this year they provide the breathing space for companies such as Aquamarine and Pelamis to prosper and ultimately achieve their goals.
* It has been interesting to witness the increase in activity at Fife Energy Park in recent weeks.
What must be the world’s largest Meccano set is being assembled quayside ahead of the erection later this year of Samsung Heavy Industry’s 7MW demonstrator wind turbine.
The turbine’s gearbox is already here, the blades are on the way from Denmark and the foundation piles are being driven into the riverbed. Other vital steels are coming from South Korea.
As one of the largest offshore wind turbines ever built, rising almost 200m from base to tip of blade and towering over the highest steels of the nearby Forth Road Bridge, SHI’s new addition to the Fife coast is certain to make an impact.
Given favourable headwinds, the Methil Monster could roar into life as early as this autumn.