Annual Report 2018

Interview with Wave Energy Scotland



Jonathan’s engineering career began in the aerospace industry with the development and testing of Rolls-Royce aircraft turbofan engines. In his role as Senior Innovation Engineer at Wave Energy Scotland (WES) he aims to identify opportunities for innovation and then develop appropriate WES funding calls to support the sector towards achievement of cost competitive wave energy technologies. Jonathan is involved in collaboration activities across Europe and the US to develop tools, common metrics for technology assessment and to seek technology transfer opportunities to advance the sector.


OES: The use of a formalized technology evaluation or stage-gate process is in general seen as a promising tool for structured decision-making and controlling project quality. From your experience, what do you consider the major benefits of the application of this process to ocean energy?

JH: In short, it ensures that we fund only the best technologies and therefore accelerate our progress towards commercialisation. What the ocean energy sector needs now is to make most efficient use of public funds, deliver the right research, development and demonstration activity and build the confidence of the private investment community. By using the stage gate process, we create the structure to make this happen.

We gain assurance that the most promising technologies receive funding and that technology developers can provide the evidence needed to gain the confidence of potential private investors. A stage gate process also creates industry-wide visibility of the activities required at each stage and the technology performance expected by stakeholders. The structure of the stage gate process helps ensure that technologies follow a suitable development path with the application of rigorous engineering processes.

We don’t want to take shortcuts, we want to reduce risk methodically and move to larger scale and more challenging environments at the right time with the right technology. A clear, open and fair stage gate process gives us some of the tools needed to do this.

OES: How do stage gate processes help the sector to achieve a stamp of approval needed to alleviate investor concerns?

JH: The stage gate process manages the research and development journey so that it produces the right technologies – the right technologies are those which should achieve that stamp of approval. So really a stage gate process helps to achieve the end goal by assessing the characteristics expected by investors and identifying the technologies that are on track to succeed, providing small stamps of approval on the way. Importantly, both the development process and the stamps of approval have more effect on investor confidence if everyone agrees with the metrics for success.

This means that we need standards and processes as well as the tools to support measurement of the key stage gate metrics. These all need to be recognised through international consensus and widespread use.

International Electrotechnical Committee (IEC) Standards, developed by panels of practitioners from across the world, are growing in number in the ocean energy sector. These provide consistent methods for design and evaluation of aspects such as power performance, testing and measurement of mechanical loads. Increasingly, these are joined by design protocols produced by the world’s verification and certification bodies which, as they continue to develop to meet the needs of the sector, will begin to satisfy the investors’ appetite for certainty.

An example of a supporting suite of tools is being produced by DTOceanPlus, a project funded by the European Union’s Horizon2020 programme to produce advanced design tools for the selection, development and deployment of ocean energy systems. DTOceanPlus will include a Stage Gate design tool which will facilitate a consistent technology evaluation process using a set of Deployment and Assessment design tools. The project will be completed in 2021 and will be valuable to funders, technology developers and array developers, among other users. Building confidence in the investment community is a common goal within the ocean energy sector and international collaboration can only bring this sooner.

OES: Which metrics have DOE/WES used to support its technology development programme and facilitate selection of the most promising technologies for funding?

JH: From the beginning, the WES programme has been built around a set of key characteristics that a successful wave energy technology must exhibit. These measures of success (or metrics) form a central part of every stage gate, meaning that technology developers not only receive consistent evaluation as they progress, but also guidance on the content of the R&D programmes, supporting them to deliver those characteristics and be able to demonstrate the results to investors.

Alongside the imperative goals of de-carbonisation and security of supply, most investors are ultimately interested in financial Return on Investment (ROI), so the metrics used to evaluate the candidate technologies must help to identify technologies that will be selected by array developers of the future. The key characteristic that allows a generation technology to achieve this share of the energy mix is affordability, measured by the metric of Levelised Cost of Energy (LCOE). The technoeconomic characteristics of a wave energy converter must always be driven by the LCOE target along with the need to be environmentally and socially accepted. The WES programme focusses on the LCOE aspect, which is in turn driven by energy yield, capital cost and operating cost. Stepping down again in this hierarchy, the key technical characteristics which must be evaluated are energy capture & conversion efficiency, reliability and survivability along with more logistical characteristics such as maintainability and installability.

As technology matures through an engineering project, so does the fidelity of design and performance knowledge and the developer’s confidence in that knowledge. The metrics used must follow this flow, from early-stage assessment of the fundamentals of a technology concept and its ability to deliver the desired characteristics, right through to objective, quantitative assessment of metrics such as Annual Energy Yield, Mean Time Between Failures and ability to survive expected operating conditions for the required lifetime.

The WES stage gate process uses consistent evaluation which both drives and mirrors the maturity of the candidate technologies, ensuring the best available information is used to make the optimal decisions at all stages. As the programme progresses, we’re continually improving the way we apply metrics to the key evaluation areas.

OES: From your experience with performance metrics, what does an international agreement look like on this approach? What can be done to move towards consensus on ocean energy technology evaluation?

JH: Eventually, an agreement should provide a framework of required R&D activities and key metrics or evaluation criteria that the international community can use to guide and manage their funding schemes, technology development programmes and engineering projects.

A balance of consensus and flexibility is required here – wide agreement on the key metrics and evaluation methods, but with flexibility to allow governments, funders and investors to add additional metrics which may be specific to their chosen energy resource, market or objectives. The important thing is that this flexibility is additional to the core set of metrics that are applicable to all technologies, users, objectives and aspirations. Such an agreement will accelerate our progress towards cost effective energy generation from our oceans, enabling countries to benefit from each other’s experience. This ensures the international community efficiently funds the best technologies and improves the global mobility of good technology solutions as developers search for investment, array deployments and industrialisation.

This requires consistency – if a private investor or public funder looks at a technology developed in the Wave Energy Scotland programme, they will know exactly what engineering activities have been carried out, how the technology has been assessed and exactly what method was used to assess it – it breeds confidence that is in everyone’s interest as we seek the massive rewards promised by the ocean energy sectors.

WES is working closely with the US Department of Energy, The European Commission and the IEA-OES members to achieve such an agreement. Between us we cover the full range of ocean energy technologies and have vast experience of supporting and guiding these sectors.

We are sharing our experiences and working towards a common framework that supports all our needs, including that flexibility to allow the agreement to be useful in practice. The task will continue through 2019 and beyond as we work towards the common goal, with the IEA-OES being a trusted body that can engage interested stakeholders to facilitate international agreement and uptake of a common approach to stage gate metrics.

A common framework will guide technology developers to carry out the right research & development activities with the engineering rigour necessary to make the right decisions. This will result in reduced risk, increased confidence and accelerated success in the ocean energy sector.