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10 August, 2011 - 13:55 By News Desk

Michael Evans, CEO of Green-Tide Turbines

Michael Evans, CEO of Green-Tide Turbines

G-TT is a marine technology start-up which in a key strategic move appointed Cambridge Consultants to help with the development of its tidal stream turbines. G-TT promises to revolutionise tidal energy in the same way that jet engines changed the face of aviation. Its turbines use natural water movement to tap energy from the tidal stream, helping to bring more cost effective renewable energy to the world.

Based at IdeaSpace, Hauser Forum, G-TT is developing a novel run-of-river and tidal stream turbine offering lower capital and operational and maintenance costs, while delivering over twice the available energy of comparative bladed turbine technologies. The company is addressing a rapidly growing global market for marine renewables projected to be worth €80-250 billion a year in energy sales.

1. What was the inspiration for GTT and source of the technology?Climate change is the biggest challenge of our age and if left un-faced will make life very difficult for future generations. Once I accepted this as fact I dedicated myself to finding a better way of generating renewable energy. Looking at sources of renewable energy, the main contenders suffered from problems of intermittency and being out of phase with energy demand. Therefore, no matter how much renewable energy we have, there is always a need for fossil fuel or nuclear powered backup and base load generation.

I was struck by the consistency and power of flowing water in rivers and the sea and started to look for ways of tapping this energy source without the need for expensive dams or infrastructure. My inspiration came from observing natural movement of water and the way fish swim against fast flowing currents.

2. Why do you believe your technology is a game-changer?Renewable energy technologies face an impossible task. They have to compete with fossil fuel technologies that have had decades, if not centuries, of technology development and refinement resulting in extremely efficient and cost effective energy generation. Wind turbines have something like 40 years of development behind them yet they still can’t compete on cost of energy with fossil fuels.

Our focus is on minimising cost of energy, we have no fuel costs to bear so our cost of energy is completely derived from the initial CAPEX and ongoing OPEX costs.  For this reason, the design of our turbines is very simple and robust and does not require expensive control systems; it is fish friendly and creates minimal marine noise, reducing harm to fish breeding grounds.

Our turbines can achieve a higher farm or river energy density than our competitors and require cheap and easy to deploy mooring systems which offer an easy means of recovery and replacement when things go wrong. By concentrating on reducing CAPEX and OPEX costs we aim to manufacture and supply turbines that can generate base load electricity competitively compared to fossil fuel options. Once this has been demonstrated we will have access to a significant global market.

3. How close are you to commercial roll-out?This depends greatly on how successful we are at raising the funding we require to develop the technology. Assuming we get what we need, our 5kW run-of-river turbine will be on the market by the end of 2013, our 1.2MW tidal turbines by mid-2015.

4. What are your major target markets in terms of territories?Our target markets are developing countries rather than established markets like Europe and the US. Countries like China, India and Brazil are showing strong growth and as these are ‘new’ economies, this growth is resulting in huge investment in their energy infrastructures.

Old world economies like  the UK and US are bogged down with their existing, ageing energy infrastructure which are wrapped in red tape – change happens at a glacial pace; for example, it took the UK Government six very expensive public enquires into the feasibility of the Severn Barrage only for it to be recently rejected on cost grounds – no doubt we’ll have a 7th with the next government after yet another hike in oil prices. By contrast Chinese and Brazilian governments are driving investment in infrastructure with strong regulation and legislation creating an environment for new technologies to be readily adopted.

5. What interest are you seeing for your solution globally?We are seeing a great deal of interest from agents in China, India and Eastern Europe wanting to sell our turbines in their territories. However, the most promising market for us has been Brazil; it has very large rivers and a very long coastline near their main population areas creating a fantastic market for both our run-of-river and tidal turbines.

We have benefited from a great deal of Brazilian and UK Government support and goodwill. This has resulted in Green-Tide’s strategy to set up a joint venture in Brazil to take advantage of offers of 100 per cent funded R & D from two major Brazilian end customers. G-TT has also recently signed a collaboration agreement with the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro to help develop our technology at their Ocean Labs facility.

6. Are you seeking funding and if so how much and what type of finance?We are currently seeking funding of £1.1m to cover the cost of our next phase of development. The first phase was carried out by Cambridge University but we have now outgrown their facilities and are now working with QinetiQ to develop and test our full scale river turbine and 1/10th scale tidal turbine in their facilities in Haslar. This funding will also enable us to kickstart our Brazilian operations to facilitate the subsequent development stages of in-river testing and productionising of our river turbines and full scale testing of our tidal turbines.

7. What has been the reaction from funders so far?Investor interest has been quite positive, a key differentiator being our strategy and commercial progress in Brazil. The funding of 100 per cent of our R & D costs in Brazil by two major Brazilian customers is a significant endorsement of our technology and greatly reduces commercial risk. It also means as much as £20-30m of our future development costs are covered by this relationship so incoming and existing investors see much reduced dilution in subsequent investment rounds. However, converting ‘interest’ to actual investment is always challenging especially in the current economic climate.

Our main source of investment is likely to come from angel investors who stand to benefit from attractive EIS tax breaks and who see a UK company with a near-term commercial focus on the high growth Brazilian market as a better bet than one floundering in a depressed UK market. We also hope to benefit from cleantech VCT funds set up to take advantage of feed in tariffs for commercial scale solar farms that are now looking for alternative investment opportunities since the UK Government slashed financial incentives for solar farms.

8. Do you think there is a void between people’s and governments’ expectations for renewable power and the  need to fund it?Absolutely. Both Government and the public think that when climate change starts to bite, technology will save the day. In the real world, developing the technologies needed to halt climate change will take many years of hard work and heavy investment. This attitude is demonstrated by the UK Government’s support for carbon capture and storage.

The technology is unproven yet ‘clean’ coal power stations are being given the go-ahead on the assumption that the technology will be ready by the time they are on line. Technologies of that type takes many years to develop; what if it doesn’t work at scale or, worse still, is totally unsafe or uneconomic?

What’s needed is a coordinated, cross-party energy strategy offering investors a secure investment environment for many years into the future. We need some big ideas and strong leadership. Why not mobilise the vast financial resources of our state pension funds to invest in our energy future? Government needs to stop listening to the opinion polls, develop a backbone and start leading the country out of this energy cul-de-sac.

9. Do you think Cambridge would benefit from a structured CleanTech network/cluster to leverage greater kudos and credibility?A number of organisations already exist in Cambridge with an energy focus, the most notable being Cambridge Energy Forum of which I have been a member for many years. There are also discussions taking place about the creation of a CleanTech Campus where new ideas can be explored and incubated.

What’s needed is some of that government leadership that I referred to earlier and a utility company like EDF to put their weight behind it. Cambridge has a fantastic history of scientific discovery and innovation and is envied around the world for its ability to nurture innovation. There is definitely a major role for Cambridge in meeting what has to be man’s greatest challenge. 10. Do you believe you would be more successful if GTT was based not in Cambridge but elsewhere globally, where cost-effective, eco friendly power sources are more appreciated and better understood?No. We now operate in a global market. Most companies that make things outsource manufacturing to wherever it is cheapest or best quality and sell to markets right around the world. ARM is the perfect example of this; we aspire to be the ARM of the cleantech world. Brazil is our first market and being based in Cambridge has given Green-Tide a great deal of credibility out there.

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