Scotland: We’ll Rule The Waves

The Scottish government, pushing again to maintain Scotland‘s leadership in wave power, has approved the building of what could well become the world’s first significant array and announced that the Carbon Trust will head up a program to speed commercialization for the sector as a whole.

The wave park that gained full permitting is planned for the Atlantic coast off the Isle of Lewis, at the northern end of Scotland’s Western Isles chain (aka, the Outer Hebrides).  It would produce 40 megawatts using Aquamarine Power’s “Oyster” wave energy converters, the latest iteration of which – the Oyster 800 – is presently sending power onto the grid at the European Marine Energy Centre. That’s it directly below.

aquamarine power

Aquamarine Power’s Oyster 800 wave energy machine in operation at the European Marine Energy Centre in Orkney, Scotland. (image via Aquamarine Power)

Here’s how Aquamarine Power sees things unfolding:

The green light from the government and its regulator Marine Scotland, along with onshore planning which was approved last September, means the Edinburgh firm, through its wholly owned subsidiary Lewis Wave Power Limited, will be able to begin installing their near-shore Oyster wave energy machines at the site in the next few years – once the necessary grid infrastructure has been put in place.

The Oyster is what’s known in the trade as an oscillating wave surge converter. It’s attached to the seabed at depths of between about 30 and 50 feet about a quarter-mile offshore. Its hinged flap, which is almost entirely underwater, pitches back and forth in the waves, driving hydraulic pistons that push high-pressure water onshore via a subsea pipeline to drive a conventional hydro-electric turbine.

The device operates near-shore. (image via Aquamarine Power)

The device operates near-shore. (image via Aquamarine Power)

The Oyster is one of many types of wave energy converters in development, but with a second version of its device working at the EMEC it can be counted as further ahead than most. But help might be on the way for the whole sector.

On the same day he announced the full licensing of the Lewis wave park, Minister for Energy, Enterprise and Tourism Fergus Ewing said that Carbon Trust – a “not-for-dividend” company that researches, analyzes, strategizes and invests in carbon-reducing technologies – would undertake a program to push concepts, demos and pilots toward commercialization.

According to Stephen Wyatt, director of innovation at the Carbon Trust, the key point here is that Scotland is recognizing that wave power needs its own focused attention, apart from tidal power development,

The Carbon Trust are delighted to be working with the Scottish Government to deliver this dedicated support mechanism of financial and technical support for the wave sector to enable wave projects to get to the first array stage,” Wyatt said in a statement. ”This tailored approach for wave energy, complemented by a Marine Energy Accelerator for enabling technologies, will help keep Scotland, and the rest of the UK, in pole position to capitalise on the tremendous opportunity we have in marine energy.”

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.

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