The IHT reports that the Pelamis ocean power project in Portugal has been suspended due to technical problems and financial problems caused by the demise of Babcock & Brown - A setback for wave power technology.
Projects for wind and wave energy beset by technical snags and dwindling investment
In July, a Pelamis wave power generator, an articulated steel machine like a giant semi-submerged sausage, was towed into the deep Atlantic, off the coast of Aguçadoura in northern Portugal, and attached to a floating mooring.
By September, two more Pelamis units, each capable of generating 750 kilowatts of electricity, had joined the first, about three miles, or five kilometers, off shore, and the Portuguese power utility Energias de Portugal was able to announce proudly that "the world's first commercial wave power project," was transmitting electricity to the national grid.
Costing about €9 million, or $11.5 million, the three machines were the first phase of a plan intended ultimately to be expanded to 28 units, with a total generating capacity of 21 megawatts — enough to power more than 15,000 homes and save more than 60,000 tons a year of carbon dioxide from being spewed into the skies by conventional power plants.
In mid-November all three were disconnected and towed back to land, where they now lie in Leixões harbor, near the city of Porto, with no date set for their return to operation.
So what went wrong?
First, there was a buoyancy problem, said Max Carcas, a spokesman for Pelamis Wave Power, the British company that designed and built the units and retained a 23 percent stake in the project. According to a report on ocean energy systems published by the International Energy Agency, foam-filled buoyancy tanks for the mooring installation leaked and needed to be replaced, delaying startup.
The buoyancy problem was resolved, Mr. Carcas said during a telephone interview this month, but other technical issues emerged, as could be expected in a prototype project. "Like all things new, you have niggles to work through, and we continue to do that."
Then, the financial crisis kicked in.
The Aguçadoura wave farm was announced in September as a joint venture between Pelamis and a group of three promoters including EDP, the Portuguese electrical engineering company Efacec, and the asset manager Babcock & Brown, an Australia-based specialist in power and other infrastructure investments.
But, by November, as the global credit crunch and falling share markets took a deepening toll of highly leveraged investors, Babcock & Brown announced a major program of asset sales to pay down its debt: and the Portuguese partners pulled back from the venture.
"Babcock & Brown are in process of winding down and we're looking at offers for all our assets," Anthony Kennaway, a Babcock & Brown spokesman, said from London. "Pelamis is part of that. All our assets are for sale. We are not putting any more money into the project."
Against that background, Mr. Carcas, of Pelamis, said that there was no timetable for returning the generators to sea.