AWS Ocean Energy Still Needs Public Funding (UK)


MORE public money will be required if Inverness firm AWS Ocean Energy is to develop a successful wave power device, despite the company last week announcing a multi-million pound investment from French generator Alstom.

Chief executive Simon Grey told The Inverness Courier that although Alstom’s backing, which comes in return for a 40 per cent stake, is critical, it will not be enough to see the pioneering AWS III device into full-scale production.

“There is still a key role for the public sector to play and we are looking at how we fund our first full-size prototype, which will cost about £20 million, and then a 10 megawatt demonstration array at £60 million,” he said.

“Alstom is not putting up that kind of money on its own and we are hopeful that the public sector will continue to support us at the levels it has been doing.

“I spoke to (first minister) Alex Salmond and he promised us ongoing support, although he was a little light on the specific details.”

The Alstom deal puts AWS, of Henderson Road, at the forefront of the worldwide drive to develop a commercial wave power device.

It is the first time a major generator has made such a large investment in the sector and the Inverness firm beat off intense international competition.

The company’s hopes are pinned on the AWS III, a scaled down version of which was tested successfully on Loch Ness by Dores last year. It floats on top of the water and the rising and falling motion of the waves forces air through a series of turbines to generate electricity.

Much development work is still required and Paris-based Alstom’s involvement may slow development of the technology slightly as Mr Grey no longer has to satisfy venture capitalists who demand instant results.

“Like many in the sector in the past we perhaps made promises without entering into discussions with customers or the people you need to deliver. We were probably naive but the industry is coming of age and we now have an investor who will allow us to follow a sensible engineering timescale.”

It is hoped to undertake further testing in Loch Ness later this year and instal a full-size single cell prototype in the Moray Firth in 2012. A larger prototype could be in the waters off Orkney by late 2013, followed by a demonstration array in 2015

Mr Grey is keen to stress that the injection of foreign capital does not mean there is pressure on AWS to leave the Highlands. “The location in Inverness is strategically important because we are on the doorstep of the market and close to places like Nigg, which is one of several production facilities in the region that could give us the volume we require,” he said.

“Rather than want us to move, Alstom like us because we are in Inverness.”

AWS is currently looking to double the size of its workforce by recruiting 15 new engineers and hopes to tempt back Highlanders who may currently be working abroad.

“I am certain there are local people who work in the oil and gas sector, it’s just a question of getting through to them,” Mr Grey explained. “Living on a rig in Azerbaijan can’t be as nice as a full-time job in Inverness!”



Source: inverness-courier, June 30, 2011; Image: awsocean