George Taylor: My business week

This is only the beginning for wave energy, says the chief executive of Ocean Power Technologies
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Progress in dealing with the threat of global warming has been slow. It is easy to blame major corporations and intransigent politicians, but consumer attitudes have also proved hard to change: we rely utterly on our cars; our houses are centrally heated (or cooled) and we are often wasteful in other areas.

But if the prospect of ecological disaster was not enough to persuade us to change our ways, other threats might be. The shock of oil changing hands at nearly $100 a barrel, and the realisation that much of the world's remaining resources are found in unstable regions, are having a profound impact on public opinion.

Harnessing the earth's renewable resources to produce power has preoccupied scientists and engineers for decades. Their patience is finally beginning to pay off. Wind turbines have become a feature of many land- and seascapes, while crops for biofuels are being grown in ever larger volumes.

Wave energy has taken longer to develop, but is the most concentrated form of renewable energy. It is also predictable and dependable – it can be forecast days in advance. Harnessing this energy is not easy, though. The ocean is an unforgiving environment in which only the most robust and flexible technology will be able to survive and thrive.

But once again, the economic benefits are having their influence. Ocean Power Technologies estimates that the cost per kilowatt hour of its wave-generated electricity to utilities could be as low as 5 cents. That's comparable to fossil fuels and to onshore wind power, and much cheaper than offshore wind or solar energy.

Over the next 12 months, a number of systems harnessing wave power should be going into the world's oceans. It is the start of the commercial use of a major source of previously untapped renewable energy.