Oops: Wave Power Research Buoy Goes Missing

Seeking: Missing wave-power research buoy. Goes by name “Waverider.” Yellow. About 1 meter in diameter. Last seen floating 2 kilometers off the southwest coast of Shetland, Scotland. Fitted with flashing yellow light and radio antenna (might not be functioning). If seen, please notify Vattenfall.

That’s the notice we’re imagining now, after seeing the Shetland News story headlined, “Vattenfall looking for missing wave buoy.”

missing wave power research buoy

image via Pelamis Wave Power

The buoy in question (that’s what it looks like, the yellow ball in the photo above) was put into service last summer, one of two placed a few miles apart off the Shetland coast to gather data for a project called Aegir Wave Power, a joint effort of Vattenfall and Pelamis Wave Power.

With two buoys the project team was hoping to assess how energy moved and varied in the sea in an area where Aegir hopes to build a 10 megawatt wave farm, as soon as in 2015, consisting of 10 to 14 Pelamis wave energy machines. The buoys were expected to remain on site for one to three years, with periodic removal for maintenance.

This April, Vattenfall grabbed the final open slot at the European Marine Energy Center off the Orkney Islands to test a Pelamis wave energy converter for the Aiger project – and it was right around then, according to the News, that one of the research buoys went quiet.

In late May a ship was dispatched to the scene to pick up the buoy – but it wasn’t there.

The case of the missing buoy has apparently raised concern among Shetland residents that the much larger Pelamis device — 465 feet long, with a diameter of nearly 12 feet and made from more than 1.5 million pounds of carbon steel – planned for the wave farm could similarly come unmoored, presenting a danger.

But not to worry, a company spokesman told the newspaper; entirely different anchoring system: “To be sensitive to the motion of the waves, the measurement buoys off Burra were attached to one point of a light mooring set, including an elastic bungee. By comparison, a typical wave power machine is moored in at four points with conventional, heavy embedment anchors and catenary mooring sets, common place in offshore oil and gas installations.”

Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.