Barry Doherty writes that collaboration must become a key business strategy for wave-technology companies in order to generate new capabilities and change-operating environments in ways that could create new strategic opportunities


Author: Barry Doherty BE Eur Ing CEng MIEI, senior project engineer, Aquamarine Power

The potential to capture energy from our oceans and convert it into clean sustainable electricity represents a huge global opportunity – harnessing this energy, however, is proving to be a considerable challenge. Capturing lessons learned and the dissemination of this valuable knowledge within the wave-energy sector will be fundamental to the success of meeting this challenge.

The oceans cover approximately 70% of our planet’s surface. It is estimated that the energy contained within ocean waves could produce up to 80,000TWh of electricity per year, which would be sufficient to meet our current global energy demand five times over.


The ocean energy industry has been around for a number of years, but it is still considered to be a pioneering sector when compared to the oil and gas industry. In the early days, the industry may have underestimated the challenge involved in creating new and reliable technologies to harness the energy in our oceans.

Even the best-resourced plans have their limitations and many projects have encountered frustrating setbacks. However, as the industry continues to develop and mature, a much clearer picture of the technology challenge is emerging. Experience has shown that wave-energy technologies must be incredibly robust if they are to operate reliably and survive in the hostile offshore environment.

Up until now, ocean technology companies have been very guarded and protective of their intellectual property (IP). The first company to develop a reliable and proven technology stands to reap huge financial rewards. It is understandable, therefore, that technology companies have been reluctant to disclose some of the challenges and failures they have encountered along the development journey for fear of undermining confidence in the sector and dampening investor appetite. This must change if the industry is to continue to innovate and grow.

Oyster 800 being towed before installation (click to enlarge)

At Aquamarine Power, the Oyster 800 Wave Energy Convertor (WEC) is the second generation of its wave-energy technology and includes significant design improvements through lessons learned from their first Oyster 1 device. It has proved its survivability through three full winters at the European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC) in Orkney, Scotland, and has withstood storms with waves in excess of eight metres. Aquamarine Power is currently implementing the second phase of its Product Improvement Programme (PIP+) on the Oyster 800 device, which incorporates further lessons learned from operational experience gained during winter 2013/’14.

Aquamarine Power has shown leadership by discussing openly what has not worked on Oyster 800. “We’ve been as open as we can about the challenges we face,” explained company chief executive officer, Martin McAdam. “Many components, including control and instrumentation cable connectors, hydraulic hoses, non-return valves and accumulators, have performed much less reliably than expected.”

Many of the components that have failed are used regularly in the deep water oil and gas industry; however, they have failed in the highly turbulent, highly oxygenated nearshore wave environment.


Wave-technology companies should embrace and share knowledge about challenges and failures and view them as learning opportunities. The worst thing that the industry could do is waste investors’ cash trying to solve problems that others may have solved already. Increased co-operation and collaboration amongst industry participants, along with the dissemination of important lessons learned, will be essential if the industry is to ultimately succeed.

The concept of ‘Lessons Learned’ is a very powerful one – and one that is of fndamental importance to a pioneering sector such as the wave-energy industry. ‘Lessons’ are only ‘Learned’, of course, if and when they are taken into account and implemented on future projects. Winston Churchill once said, “Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”

The documenting of lessons on many projects is not particularly good and, all too often, is seen as a ‘tick-the-box’ exercise – or in many cases, it simply is not done at all. However, sometimes it does get done. Several project-management methodologies, such as PRINCE2 for example, mandate the establishment of a lessons log when starting up a project and the creation of a lessons report at the end of a project.

Working offshore on Oyster 800 (click to enlarge)

It is vitally important to capture and document as much information and detail as possible about what went well, as well as what challenges and difficulties were encountered. Any recommendations regarding specialist techniques, strategies or controls and any other unexpected or abnormal events that may have caused problems during the project should also be noted. The level of the information contained within a lessons report needs to be of sufficient quality, otherwise the value of such a report is greatly diminished.

Collaboration must become a key business strategy for wave-technology companies. It will allow industry participants to share knowledge and information, pool scarce or diverse assets and resources, access new sources of innovation, create economies of scale and enhance the legitimacy of each participant’s own individual activities. In addition, collaboration will generate new capabilities and change operating environments in ways that could create new strategic opportunities.

The issue that needs to be addressed, therefore, is the establishment of an appropriate mechanism or forum that will enable industry participants to share and communicate key learning and knowledge. This is yet another challenge facing the wave-energy sector. Increased political support and new thinking on how best to fund the industry is required. Policy makers and funding authorities are now moving more towards collaboration and this may include introducing industry-wide technology programmes, as well as company-specific grants.


Oyster 800 in fabrication yard (click to enlarge)

The EU Commission’s 2030 Policy Framework for Climate and Energy recognises that renewable energy has an important contribution to make in the period to 2030 and beyond. The wave resources off the west coast of Ireland are considered to be among the best in the world and Ireland could become a global leader in this sector.

Earlier this year, the Minister for Communications, Energy & Natural Resources, Pat Rabbitte, launched the Offshore Renewable Energy Development Plan (OREDP), which provides a framework for the sustainable development of Ireland’s offshore renewable energy resources. The development of this offshore renewable energy resource would enable the generation of carbon-free renewable electricity, enhance security of supply, and deliver green growth and jobs to the economy.

Aquamarine Power is one of five technology developers participating in WestWave, which is a collaborative project led by ESB International (ESBI) with the aim of installing and operating wave energy convertors capable of generating 5MW of clean electricity off the west coast of Ireland.

In addition to the WestWave project, Aquamarine Power is also working with a number of other organisations such as the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland and the Marine Renewables Industry Association, as well as a several research institutes including University College Dublin and Queen’s University Belfast.

Barry Doherty is senior project engineer with Aquamarine Power. He is a chartered engineer with over 17 years’ experience in the design, construction and project management of major infrastructure and renewable energy projects in Ireland and in the UK. For more information about Aquamarine Power’s Oyster 800 technology visit or watch the video below to see Oyster 800 in action. O'RiordanElecelectricity,energy,ESB,marine,tidal,wave
  Author: Barry Doherty BE Eur Ing CEng MIEI, senior project engineer, Aquamarine Power The potential to capture energy from our oceans and convert it into clean sustainable electricity represents a huge global opportunity – harnessing this energy, however, is proving to be a considerable challenge. Capturing lessons learned and the...