Clean technology: riding the wave through the recession

Wave power in the UK will overtake offshore wind power in five years, despite lagging far behind it today, the industry’s leaders have argued.

Martin McAdam, CEO of Aquamarine Power, predicts that his company can offer a commercially available device that will be competitive with offshore wind energy by 2014. In an interview with Reuters, he states that installations will be available up to 100 MW, enough to power around 100,000 homes.

Aquamarine Power is not alone. Checkmate Group is developing an ‘anaconda‘ wave device on the same timeframe, with commercial units available by 2014. Each device will be capable of producing 1 MW, and the designers say up to 50 can be grouped together. Checkmate suggest that the devices might be deployed next to offshore wind turbines, using existing transmission cables to transport the power to land. The developers say they can produce the units at an “excitingly low” cost, according to the Independent.

Wave power is a less mature technology than wind, but has two advantages. First, wave energy is more constant than wind energy, and so the power it produces is more reliable than that from wind. Second, it tends not to generate so much local opposition. As Checkmate’s chairman Paul Auston notes: “a lot of people are resentful of wind turbines on their doorstep, or in vast tracts of coastal waters. What we’re offering through Checkmate is a new technology which you can’t see, it’s under the water so it’s not as intrusive…”

The comparison with offshore wind may well be a moot point. If the UK is to meet its targets on renewable energy and CO2 emissions, we’re going to be exploiting both types of energy in abundance.

Some good news on this front. At the Clean Investor 2009 conference in London on Wednesday, investors expressed confidence that renewable technologies would provide good returns to private equity funds this year. The financial crisis has caused the sector to shrink significantly since 2008, and the companies that have survived are felt to be undervalued.

Steve Falci, vice president of sustainable investment at KBC Asset Management, said:

“Investing in undervalued, fundamentally sound, leading companies that are positioned to benefit from profitable long-term secular trends, is a tried and true recipe for long-term investment success”

The subsidies for clean tech announced recently by the UK and US governments should help, too.