Global Marine Renewable Energy Conference Countdown – Profiles in Ocean Energy: Derek Robertson of Wavebob Ltd
Head of Wavebob Ltd’s US office, Derek Robertson carries degrees in engineering and business, as well as service in the US Navy. While residing in Ireland, he spent 3 years as an R&D program manager for the Irish government, promoting the development of renewable energy resources and improved energy performance in buildings. Before joining Wavebob Ltd in 2008, Mr. Robertson worked as a consultant supporting major defense acquisition programs for the US government.
What changes have you noticed in the industry since the time that you began working in the field until now?
I suppose one of the most significant changes to affect the industry in the past 5-10 years is the increased public and political awareness of the impact of climate change. There is certainly a greater sense of urgency relating to the research and development of alternative forms of energy, which has given the ocean energy industry more leverage in terms of sourcing both Government and private sector funding. National governments are increasingly aware of both the potential of this sector and of the need to develop clear policy and support mechanisms. As a result, we’ve seen some important changes that favor development. Technology has improved, leading to more mature and robust solutions to wave energy conversion. The success of the Wavebob device is a perfect example of how imaginative solutions, coupled with years of methodical, expert research are now producing very exciting results. Overall, market conditions are very encouraging with high energy prices and an increasing commitment among local governments and energy companies to include marine renewables in their portfolio.
What in your view are the greatest challenges to marine renewables at this time?
The regulatory environment is undoubtedly the greatest source of risk and uncertainty. Without a streamlined permitting process and clear lines of jurisdiction among interested parties, it’s extremely difficult to plan or finance commercial projects.
What, if anything, makes the marine renewables industry different from other industries that you’ve worked with?
Right now the industry is undergoing a welcome shift from technology demonstration to commercial development. Worldwide, we are one of only a handful of companies to have successfully harnessed wave power at sea. It’s enormously exciting to be working for a company with not only great commercial prospects, but one who can help bring about significant environmental benefits to the electricity industry.
What do you find most exciting about the marine renewables industry?
While other renewable sectors have long boasted of their great potential, marine renewables are uniquely posed to make a significant impact within a relatively short timeframe. There is a developing momentum within the industry at the moment, particularly surrounding the commercialization of wave energy. Given my own particular background and interests, the marine environment is always a welcome place to work.
What, in your opinion, are the top two to three developments needed to bring marine renewables to commercialization?
1) An improved regulatory environment with a streamlined permitting process tailored to marine renewables.
2) Leadership from national and local governments to sponsor development of infrastructure required to support marine renewables. Government bodies are best able to meet challenges that arise from their own regulatory structures. Projects like Wavehub (UK) offer marine technology providers easy access to electricity markets, as would be enjoyed by other generators.
3) Tax credits and/or feed-in tariffs that help to offset the harmful subsidies provided to other sources of energy to include fossil fuels and bio-fuels.
What are your predictions for the marine renewables industry over the next 3-5 years?
We should see development of the first commercial wave farms in both Europe and North America.