Around 10% of Europe’s total wave resource flows in the seas surrounding the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. Reports to the Scottish Government calculate some 14 gigawatts of recoverable energy lying off the area’s western and northern flanks. This potential resource has drawn world leading wave energy device developers to the area. The Scottish Government has set ambitious targets for electricity generation from wave and tidal to contribute to the target set for 100% of Scotland's electricity requirements to come from renewable sources by 2020.
A shoreline wave energy converter has been in place on the coast of Islay since 2000. The Limpet (Land Installed Marine Powered Energy Transformer) produces power for the national grid using an oscillating water column technology. Inverness-based developers Wavegen are a subsidiary of Voith Hydro, a major international player in hydro power equipment.
Wavegen has also supplied the equipment for the world's first commercially operated wave power plant in Mutriku, located between Bilbao and San Sebastian in Spain. They supplied 16 power units that provide an output of 300kW in total - electricity sufficient for around 250 homes. This project was officially launched in July 2011.
A key facility in the advancement of wave energy technology research and development is EMEC, which officially opened its wave testing site and facilities in 2004. A number of developers have made use of the centre to test commercial-scale prototype devices in vigorous sea conditions and to generate 'grid quality' electricity. The site, at Billia Croo on the Atlantic coast of Orkney’s west mainland, experiences wave heights of up to 14 metres.
Pelamis Wave Power (PWP), an Edinburgh-based wave energy device developer, was first to make use of EMEC's facilities and then sold some of the first generation devices (Pelamis P1) to a Portuguese consortium building the world's first commercial wave-farm. Supply chain links in the Highlands and Islands are strong, with Shetland-based Delta Marine contracted to deploy the first Pelamis device at EMEC in 2004, and the Arnish Yard in Lewis involved in the manufacture of three later devices.
In 2009, leading UK renewable generators E.ON UK announced plans to buy, install and test a wave power device at EMEC. Pelamis Wave Power have now provided E.ON with a Pelamis P2 device which, at 180 metres, is almost 40% longer than the P1. This device is now active at EMEC and has been joined on site by a further P2, owned by ScottishPower Renewables. A further P2 will be coming to EMEC, owned by Vattenfall.
Another Edinburgh based company - Aquamarine Power Ltd - are currently testing their Oyster device at the wave site. The Oyster 1, rated at 315kW was installed at EMEC from summer 2009 and was decommissioned in 2011. The Oyster 2, known as the Oyster 800 and rated at 800kW, was also deployed during 2011. Consent has also been granted to Aquamarine Power for a further two Oyster 800 devices and these will be deployed in late 2012 and 2013.
EMEC also hosts various research projects to monitor marine activities and conditions, including a project carried out on its behalf by the International Centre for Island Technology (ICIT), also based in Orkney. ICIT analyses the monthly MetOcean data for Billia Croo and developers are given access to the results to help assess and develop the performance of devices against the prevailing conditions.
Aquamarine has made extensive use of the expertise of 27 local contractors to deploy the Oyster wave energy device as well as EMEC’s facilities.
In addition to seven Aquamarine staff directly employed in Orkney, more than 70 people from both sides of the Pentland Firth provided support. Many were from specialist companies in both Caithness and Orkney with the expertise to help get Oyster into the water for its first sea trials.
Isleburn, part of the Ross-shire based Global Energy Group, manufactured the Oyster 1 device at its Nigg base, requiring up to 60 skilled personnel. Oyster 2 was fabricated by BiFab at its Arnish yard and assembled and deployed from their Methil base.
Many other developers have been working with the local supply chain and expertise continues to grow in the area, ensuring that the region remains at the global forefront of the development of this exciting sector.