Wave Power ‘Sea Snake’ Inventor Honored

The inventor of an iconic wave energy device has been honored for his contribution to the marine renewables sector.

Richard Yemm, pictured below at right, is the founder of Pelamis Wave Power. His company makes giant wave machines that sit semi-submerged in the open seas and whose long tubular design has led to them becoming known as “sea snakes”.

Pelamis P2 Wave Energy Converter

image via Pelamis Wave Power

Their success has led to a string of high-profile energy companies ordering the devices and in 2008, Pelamis created the world’s first commercial-scale wave-power station off the Portuguese coast.

This week Yemm was presented with the second annual Saltire Prize Medal. The award recognizes outstanding contributions in the development of wave and tidal power generation. Yemm received his award from Scotland First Minster Alex Sammond at the Scottish Renewables conference dinner in Edinburgh.

“Richard’s drive, ambition and vision should be an inspiration to many young people who are considering careers in engineering, science and the energy industry,” Sammond said in a statement.

Since Yemm formed the company in 1998, Pelamis now boasts major international utilities E.On, ScottishPower and Vattenfall among its customers.

In 2008, it helped created a commercial-scale wave-power station. The company installed a set of three of its sea snakes in the Atlantic, three miles from the coast of the northern Portuguese town of Aguçadoura. Power generated by the Pelamis devices was carried by undersea cable to a substation onshore. Funded by the Portuguese government  the project is capable of generating clean electricity for up to 1,500 family homes.

The Pelamis devices are 465 feet long, with a diameter of nearly 12 feet and are made from more than 1.5 million pounds of carbon steel. Bobbing up and down on the constant supply of waves in open seas, the devices convert this motion into electricity. Each of the wave converters has four articulated sections that move up and down as the waves pass along it. Where the sections join hydraulic rams are located. The rams use the wave motion to drive generators to produce up to 750 kilowatts of power at peak output.

Paul Willis has been journalist for a decade. Starting out in Northern England, from where he hails, he worked as a reporter on regional papers before graduating to the cut-throat world of London print media. On the way he spent a year as a correspondent in East Africa, writing about election fraud, drought and an Ethiopian version of American Idol. Since moving to America three years ago he has worked as a freelancer, working for CNN.com and major newspapers in Britain, Australia and North America. He writes on subjects as diverse as travel, media ethics and human evolution. He lives in New York where, in spite of the car fumes and the sometimes eccentric driving habits of the yellow cabs, he rides his bike everywhere.


  • Reply April 9, 2012

    Andrew H Mackay

    The output from this freight train sized device works out at 1kW for every 0.9 tonne of metal; it will only deliver electricity subject to the vagaries of the weather for about 22% of the year and he gets a gong for ‘inventing’ a renewable energy device that requires 78% back up from fossil fuels! Amazing.

  • Reply June 19, 2012

    Thomas Morgan

    Keep up Andrew. Around 70 of the weight of the Pelamis Wave Power device is sand ballast. 

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