SOMETHING IN THE AIR

Portugal 2019 | ENERGY & GREEN ECONOMY | INTERVIEW

Given thae various opportunities, WavEC is betting heavily on Portugal's renewable energy market.

António Sarmento
BIOGRAPHY
António Sarmento is the Chair of the Steering Committee of the Atlantic International Research Centre, a member of the Installation Committee of the Observatory of the Atlantic, and founder and president of WavEC Offshore Renewables. He was Associated Editor of the International Journal of Ocean and Wind Energy, Member of the General Assembly of European Wave and Tidal Energy Conference, and is a retired associate professor with the mechanical engineering department at IST.

Would you give us an overview of the evolution of WavEC?

WavEC started in 2003 as a spin-off from the Instituto Superior Técnico (IST) to foster industrial development in wave energy. Currently, we have three business areas: wave, offshore wind, and ocean technologies, including offshore aquaculture. WavEC now has about 25 people, of which 10 have a PhD, while the others have master's in engineering, environmental sciences, and biology. About 60% of our income comes from R&D projects, meaning there is a strong R&D base to our work. The other 40% make up services that we render to companies, demonstrating that we work on real problems that the industry faces. In both cases, about 85% of the income comes from outside Portugal. Our R&D projects are mainly European-funded projects, while our services to companies are from everywhere.

Is WavEC partnering with more private or public entities, and who are your main partners?

We do both. The mix in the private sector has changed over the years due to the evolution of the sectors. One of our main clients over the last two years has been Redes Energéticas Nacionais (REN). We have also been working with EDP on various projects, not only in offshore wind, but also on floating solar photovoltaic (PV) cells for dams. Our main partner internationally in recent months is the Carbon Trust, a UK state-owned company that fosters the development of low-carbon industry in the UK. Another important international client in 2018 was Gas Natural Fenosa, for whom we undertook an in-depth review of the offshore deep-sea wind and wave energy market and technology. On the research side, we have many partners; one important one is IST in Portugal. However, we also partner with universities and research centers, such as the University of Edinburgh, University College Cork, École Centrale Paris, and Delft University of Technology.

What does the outlook for Portugal's green energy market look like?

There has been some turbulence in the internal market with pricing, which creates instability. However, in the longer term the outlook is positive for Portugal's green energy market. Portugal has great potential for testing and demonstrating the marine renewable technologies due to our strong electricity grid and significant number of parts and shipyards close to the coast. We also have other necessary infrastructure and relatively mild climatic conditions, which is an opportunity to test technologies developed for open-ocean coasts. Portugal should make itself an attractive place for such work to be carried out, which would also create an opportunity to engage the industry in the supply chain. Portugal should bet heavily on making the country attractive for the demonstration phase and see how the technology evolves before we invest significantly in producing the units. If we are talking about energy production, we must go for cheap energy and develop that technology; if we are talking about innovation, marine renewable energy is extremely interesting.

What are the key targets for WavEC for the coming year?

We want to maintain our activity in wave energy. Our target in that area is to test the first full-scale prototype for Corpower Ocean in Portugal. We are also working with WaveRoller, a Finnish wave energy technology company, to take these same steps here. It would be interesting having two technologies tested here because that would create synergies and help us develop critical mass in terms of the supply chain. Similarly, it is important for us that the WindFloat Atlantic project goes ahead as planned, because this will increase the critical size of marine renewable energy activity in Portugal. We are also working with international partners to expand our offshore wind services offering in the North European market. We also expect to have a stronger presence in Portugal's offshore and onshore aquaculture industry in the coming year and to reinforce our presence in the Norwegian offshore aquaculture market.