Nov. 20, 2000 (Financial Times)—The Scottish island of Islay sends electricity into the UK national grid today from a pioneering wave-power plant on the island’s rugged western peninsular.

In what is believed to be the world’s first commercial use of wave power, a modest 150kW, enough to power about 300 houses, is expected to flow at first from the onshore plant, developed by Wavegen, an company based in Inverness, northern Scotland.

It represents an important breakthrough for a technology that so far has failed to deliver promised benefits. A European Commission study has estimated that Britain could generate all its electricity needs by utilising only 0.1 per cent of its coastal energy potential.

The problem has been to make equipment sufficiently robust and produce power cheaply enough to compete with other renewable energy production sources such as on-shore wind and landfill sites. Government advisers concluded in the 1980s that large-scale offshore wave energy converters would not be viable for several decades, leaving researchers to concentrate on developing smaller shoreline devices.

Electricity from shoreline wave power at Islay costs 05.95p (7c) a kilowatt hour (kWh) compared with 3p kWh for landfill gas and onshore wind projects and 2p kWH for gas and coal-fired generation. But wave power supporters point to the big fall in the cost of wind power, which a decade ago was more than 10p kWh, as the technology has improved.

“We’re essentially adding an extra form of alternative energy to the mix in what is really a fairly short list of options,” said David Langston, Wavegen’s business development manager.

The company believes the potential world wave power market could generate £13bn of equipment sales over the next 20 years with wave generators capable of supplying up to 9 gigawatts of power.

It criticises the lack of recent government support for wave power claiming a British technological lead could be lost to overseas competitors, as happened in the wind power industry. Much of the technology on UK wind farms now comes from Denmark. The company has signed a 15-year government-backed power purchase agreement with Scottish and Southern Electricity and Scottish Power to provide grid electricity.

The wind-power turbine was developed by Professor Alan Wells, who founded Wavegen in 1992. The company has since received about £8m in investment from groups including 3I, the venture capital company, Unotec, a Swiss-based investment company, and British Borneo Oil and Gas.

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