What is claimed to be the world’s first commercial wave power project opened off the coast of Portugal this week. The €9 million ($16 million) Aguçadoura project is the first of a series experimental wave energy projects by the Ondas de Portugal consortium. The main partners in the consortium are Australia’s Babcock and Brown, with 46%, and Britain’s Pelamis Wave Power, which has a 23% share.

Aguçadoura will generate power using three Pelamis wave energy converters – semi-submerged structures made up of cylindrical sections linked by hinged joints – located about five kilometres off the coast. The second phase of the project will see the manufacture and installation of a further 25 wave power machines, bringing the power capacity up to 21 megawatts.

The European Union’s target is to achieve 20 per cent of its energy consumption by green, renewable sources by 2020. Portugal achieved the EU’s 2020 target three years ago and has set a goal for 45% by 2010. Some energy experts predict that Portugal will be able to source 20% of its energy needs from the sea.

In less than three years, Portugal, which has about half the population of Australia, has trebled its hydropower capacity, quadrupled its wind power and is developing one of the world’s largest photovoltaic plants as well as wave power. Firms are expected to invest €12.5 billion ($22 billion) in renewables by 2012 and up to €125 billion ($220 billion) by 2020.

Portugal’s economics minister, Manuel Pinho, said "Countries that do not invest in renewables will pay a high price in future. The cost of inaction is very high indeed. The perception that renewable energy is very expensive is changing every day as the oil price goes up."