Industry Updates

Maritime Journal | Simon Forrest: Nova Innovation

30 Apr, 2018

“The moon-race going on in the tidal energy sector” is more likely to be won by smaller, more dynamic firms according to Simon Forrest of Nova Innovation: “If you want transformation, don’t look toward big, blue-chip companies – they are generally too comfortable with the status quo.”

He should know: Nova, an SME, beat well-established competitors to deploy the world’s first tidal array.

However, Nova’s strategy is a little out-of-the-ordinary. Firstly he underlines: “We are a full solutions company, we do everything from water to wires, we didn’t go to tests centres, we developed our own site and technology from the start. I believe that if the client is going to see the benefits you need to handle the process all the way through.”

The company’s innovation pathway has also been different: “If you go back five or 10 years, the regulations, incentives and grants were all about large-scale, multi-megawatt devices, but we never believed that was the way to do it,” he said. “Innovation is a high-risk business: in the early days of the wind sector, large-scale devices were commercial dead-ends: very expensive to fix when the inevitable problems showed up so investors pulled out... Instead, we said, ‘start small, think big’.”

Therefore the company went on to create its breakthrough 100kW device: “If something goes wrong at that scale you can fix it, it doesn’t kill the project - never mind the company,” he added. Moreover, it’s sized for ‘stand alone’ off-grid projects in places where the grid infrastructure is missing entirely “which gives us another commercial route to market” he explained.

That’s not to say there haven’t been ‘grey-hair’ moments admitted Forrest. “The first device was deployed as planned, but after two years of preparing the second deployment, the insurance company suddenly said ‘no, you can’t take the cranes on B-roads’... unrelated to Nova, there had been an incident elsewhere on the Shetland Islands – nothing we could have foreseen. Of course, our chosen spot was at the end of a B-road.”

“We sat down with Shetland Island Council and other local stakeholders to find out how we could sort it out. I have to say, their can-do attitude was magnificent.” The answer was to move the operation over to the next island – to Unst - as the hard standing on the pier is technically classed as an A-road so Nova ferried everything across.

“However, we had to effectively flat-pack a 100kW power station: we had to take everything with us, as there was simply nothing there, not so much as a power point. No lighting, or anything, so that certainly tested our logistics and design. The teams really showed what they could do in the face of adversity.”

Now Nova is looking at the next phase. “We showed in 2014 that it could be done, and then in 2016, showed it could be done in multiples, so, going forward, it’s about showing we can bring costs down. It’s a very exciting time,” said Forrest.

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