Riding the crest of the wave

Renewed focus on marine energy relies on ground-breaking IEC publications

Large marine energy facilities are being deployed, with the help of pioneering standardization work accomplished by IEC TC 114.

Wave for marine energy
The power of ocean waves can be harnessed to generate energy (Photo: Pixabay)

Marine energy projects are moving apace. Since IEC Technical Committee (TC) 114: Marine energy - Wave, tidal and other water current converters, celebrated its 10th anniversary last year, the world’s first large scale tidal energy farm became fully operational. Based in the Pentland Firth, in the North of Scotland, the MeyGen facility’s ultimate aim is to provide power for 175,000 homes. “Larger projects are entering the deployment phase after much testing and investment in R&D. The outlook for marine energy is positive and there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic”, affirms Chair of TC 114, Jonathan Colby.

Oceans and, in some cases, rivers can provide an enormous source of power harnessed from waves as well as tidal and water currents. Unlike with solar photovoltaic (PV) and wind energy systems, marine energy projects have struggled to move out of the demonstration phase. “The design cycle of marine energy systems takes more time and testing is significantly more complicated. This makes the production of marine generated power more costly even as prices are coming down”, Colby adds.

French leadership

Many countries have shown a renewed interest in marine energy of late, including Japan and China. In Europe, France has become a key player in recent years. “We have witnessed the change inside TC 114. French experts have become much more involved. The country is steadily moving into a leadership position on marine energy globally”, Colby notes.

France was the first country to establish a marine energy facility using tidal energy across the mouth of the Rance estuary, off the coast of Brittany. It was built in 1966 and remains a pioneering installation. A number of new projects are close to completion, the most advanced being near Bréhat Island, also off the coast of Brittany. Like the MeyGen farm, it uses submarine turbines to harness the energy of tidal streams. Electricité de France (EDF), the predominantly state-owned utility company,  is pushing ahead with these projects with the full support of its main shareholder. The country is trying to reduce its dependence on nuclear power and investing in marine energy makes a lot of sense: according to the French Renewable Energies Association (SER), the country lays claim to 11 million square meters of water, with overseas territories in every ocean around the globe.

New working groups

This new momentum for utilizing marine energy is reflected in the work of TC 114. The TC has been blazing a trail since its creation in 2007 by issuing ground-breaking publications. These have paved the way for the various marine technologies being tested and used around the world today. “We held a TC 114 meeting in Seattle in March 2018. Around 50 members attended from 12 countries, showing great commitment from a very dynamic group of people. We have an incredible team of dedicated experts. It’s a pleasure to work with them”, Colby enthuses.

Prior to that meeting, TC 114 had agreed to create a new Maintenance Team (MT), IEC 114 MT 62600-2: Design requirements for marine energy systems. A new Project Team, IEC 114 PT 62600-3, was also established. It deals more specifically with the measurement of mechanical loads, induced by the external pressure or resistance of the marine environment.

At the meeting, four new MTs were formed and an updated strategic business plan was approved. This brings the total number of Working Groups (WG) inside TC 114 to 16, including six ad hoc Groups, five of which are currently transitioning to MTs to publish second editions of existing Technical Specifications (TS). “These ad hoc Groups tracked examples of in situ applications and the information they received has been really useful. The first Technical Specifications we developed were state of the art but written before any form of implementation. That’s why we needed feedback from the field, so to speak”, Colby explains. “We also decided that IEC 114 MT 200: Power performance assessment of electricity producing tidal converters, will now include an annexe with guidance for assessment of the power performance of ocean current energy converters”, he adds.

The TC 114 gathering was followed by an IECRE meeting focused on marine energy which also took place in Seattle. IECRE is the IEC System for Certification to Standards Relating to Equipment for Use in Renewable Energy Applications. Jonathan Colby, who is also Chair of the Operational Management Committee for the IECRE Marine Energy Sector comments: “The certification requirements have changed the way we write our Standards. It obliged us to think of why we were issuing Standards and that has been very beneficial for the industry as a whole.”

The TC comprises 15 participating member countries and 11 observer ones. “We have high hopes that a number of other countries will join our TC in the not so distant future and that existing observer countries will increase their involvement and participation”, Colby says.