Magallanes set to conquer export market

The Spanish tidal developer Magallanes Renovables is looking to test a 1:1 scale model of its technology in 2015 after receiving a €5m grant.

By Jason Deign on Jan 29, 2014

Spain is hardly the first place that comes to mind as a force to be reckoned with in the tidal market. Apart from a paucity of decent tidal flow locations, with the Strait of Gibraltar being the only realistic contender, the policy environment for renewables is scarcely encouraging.

The present administration has essentially put a stop to any subsidies for new renewable energy generation, and is in litigation with the solar sector after throttling back on an existing subsidy regime in what basically amounts to a retroactive cut.

That has not prevented Magallanes Renovables, of Pontevedra, Galicia, from powering ahead with plans for what it calls “a high-stability floating platform to support an electrical hydrogenerator able [sic] of generating up to 1MW from tidal currents of more than 1.5m/s.”

As chief executive Alejandro Marques de Magallanes told Tidal Today in an interview last year, the company was established in 2007 and by 2013 had developed a 1:10 scale model of its machine. The last year has seen some significant developments.

The most important of these was winning a €5m award from the Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness’ Centre for the Development of Industrial Technology (Centro para el Desarrollo Tecnológico Industrial or CDTI in Spanish) in mid-2013.

The money will allow Magallanes to scale up its 1:10 model, which has already tested satisfactorily in waters off Vigo, Galicia’s largest city and Europe’s top fishing port, to a 1:1 prototype by the end of this year.

Possible berths

The developer plans to put the prototype in the water around mid-2015 and is in conversations with the European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC) in Scotland, UK, and the Fundy Ocean Research Center for Energy in Canada over possible berths.

Magallanes, which now counts 10 full-time staff, has entered into an agreement with Vigo-based ship-maker Francisco Cardama to build the prototype. Meanwhile, says operations manager Francisco Robredo, the 1:10 model is due to go to EMEC for testing later this year.

The company has also secured a Marine Renewables Infrastructure Network (MARINET) scholarship to have its blades tested at the Italian Institute for Naval Hydrodynamic Research and Ship Model Basin (CNR-INSEAN) in Rome.

The CDTI and MARINET awards say a lot about Magallanes’ likely future direction. The CDTI fosters the technological development and innovation of Spanish companies, clearly with an eye on export markets.

MARINET, meanwhile, is co-financed by the European Commission as part of the Seventh Framework Programme of the European Union for the funding of research and technological development in Europe.

Robredo confirms Magallanes is primarily concerned with exporting its tidal technology instead of exploiting the scant resources around the Spanish coast. “About 98% of our market is abroad,” he says.

Strait of Gibraltar

Nevertheless the company is in touch with the governing body of Spain’s southernmost autonomous community, the Junta de Andalucía, over a possible tidal development in the Strait of Gibraltar.

An assessment of the tidal energy resource in the Strait, carried out by the Physical Oceanography Group of the University of Malaga, states: “The Strait of Gibraltar is the only connection between the eastern North Atlantic Ocean and the western Mediterranean Sea.

“As a result, tides in the Strait move huge volumes of water back and forth to couple both regimes, originating intense tidal currents.”

Whether this resource can be commercially exploited remains to be seen, however. So far, most marine renewable energy research in Spain has focused on wave power and offshore wind.

Apart from Magallanes, the only other body actively investigating tidal is the Technical University of Madrid (Universidad Politécnica de Madrid).

And a European Union Intelligent Energy Europe Programme-funded report titled ‘Ocean Energy in Europe’s Atlantic Arc’ last year pointed out that even Spain’s original 100MW target for wave energy by 2020 looked highly uncertain given recent policy measures.

Financial challenges

“The focus of the Rajoy Government on addressing Spain’s financial challenges is expected to have a significant impact on the renewables industry following the Government’s introduction … of a moratorium that suspends feed-in tariffs for new renewable energy projects,” it said.

“Participants surmised that, in light of the moratorium, it was unlikely the 100MW wave installation target would be achieved. It was also noted that Spain’s renewable energy industry was likely to stagnate over the next two years.”

The study preceded another wave of legislation, which came into effect this January and further strangled the renewable energy industry.

“Obviously the 100MW target is unlikely to be met based on the current policy/industry climate,” concurs Jarett Goldsmith, who maintains a global database of wave and tidal developers at DNV GL.

Against this backdrop, the short-term prospects for Spanish tidal power look dim. Which makes Magallanes’s focus on foreign markets a smart move. After all, if Spain is exporting renewable energy expertise in just about every other area, why shouldn’t it do so too with tidal?