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Waving goodbye to oil

Soaring oil prices have convinced governments of the need for a change in energy technology - the race to build wave and tidal stream machines is on.

And Martin Wright, managing director of Marine Current Turbine (MCT), said on Sunday the world's first large-scale tidal stream machine would be up and running within months, producing clean, renewable energy.

Portugal, Japan, the United States, Australia and South Africa are all among the countries that want to pool energy from the natural flow of the ocean.

But at the moment, the UK is set to lead the rush to develop a wave and tidal power industry, although competition is stiff.

"It's a bit of an international race to develop the technology," said Tim German, manager of Cornwall Sustainable Energy Partnership in southwest England.

Plenty of promise

Proponents say if they harnessed the energy of the ocean, they could have enough energy to power the planet. Britain's available wave power alone has been estimated to be around double the country's energy consumption.

Developers are already running tests and some are linked into national grids. Britain's Ocean Power Delivery (OPD) plugged its 750-kilowatt Pelamis machine into the grid in Scotland in August and Dutch Archimedes Wave Swing connected its two-megawatt machine in Portugal in November.

Britain wants these kinds of developers in its waters off Cornwall, a peninsula that catches the swells of the Atlantic ocean. A feasibility study is being conducted to develop a test centre called Wave Hub that would give developers a chance to test large-scale projects before they launch globally.

"If, for instance, Pelamis was developed in a farm of 40 machines, it could power 20,000 homes in the UK," said Michael Hay, marine renewables development manager for the British Wind Energy Association.

Twenty farms could power a whole city the size of Edinburgh with a population of nearly 450,000.

"We hope to have the machines in the water by 2006," said Mike Patching, project manager for Scott Wilson Oceans, the firm managing the feasibility study.


One of the biggest advantages to wave farms is that they cannot be seen. Wind farms are economically competitive but some people complain they are an eyesore.

Wave Hub is expected to cost $16 million. "The government is keen. It's the force. It is worried about dependence on imports, an increase in price volatility and carbon dioxide emissions," said MCT's Wright.

Developers reckon there is more incentive to develop renewable energy than ever before because of record high oil prices, security concerns about supply and global warming.

"You don't have to be an engineer to realise gas, coal and oil will run out one day. This century will be a transition century, but you can't change a multi-billion dollar carbon-based industry overnight," said Patching.

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