Scotland enjoys a significant share of Europe’s renewable energy resources. In recent years, much of the focus – good and bad – has been on wind power. However, there are signs of a change of emphasis, with growing encouragement from both Westminster and Holyrood for the various marine power technologies.
The latest confirmation of this comes with the UK government’s decision to fund a £20 million prize to encourage the country’s first full-scale wave energy projects. With an estimated half of all the world’s leading companies in wave and tidal power based here, it is an incentive to help those companies make the technology commercially viable.
The prize will be shared by two marine energy projects under what is known as the Marine Energy Array Demonstrator scheme (MEAD). Launching the competition, the energy and climate change minister, Greg Barker, said it would “help move marine power to the next stage of development, the demonstration of a number of wave and tidal devices in array formation out at sea. This will take us one vital step closer to realising our ambitions of generating electricity from the waves and tides.”
The firms expected to enter the fray include AWS Ocean Energy, now based in Inverness, which is planning the world’s largest wave farm off the coast of Orkney. Another Scottish company, Pelamis Wave Power, based in Leith, is already testing its sea snake wave machine off Orkney and has recently announced plans for a wave farm off the west coast of Shetland and another off the Western Isles.
To win this government money, the projects will have to deploy an array capable of generating at least 7 GWh a year, preferably more, and should include three generating devices. According to RenewableUK, an “array” is an arrangement of multiple wave and/or tidal power devices, analogous to multiple wind turbines arranged into a wind farm. The technology should also have been already demonstrated to work at full scale in real sea conditions.
The wave and tidal development manager at RenewableUK, David Krohn, said that “the marine energy industry has the potential to allow us to generate clean electricity equivalent to up to 20 per cent of our needs using the inexhaustible power of the sea. The MEAD scheme will provide enough funding to deliver two arrays, which will help kick-start the industry, and we welcome it.
“However, it’s important to recognise that this is only the beginning of the road to building marine energy into a fully commercial industry. Our research shows that £120m of capital support is required to overcome barriers to commercial development and unlock our share of this global industry. We look forward to the opportunities that the Green Investment Bank can provide to help drive the industry forwards.”
Curiously, the recent decision by the Scottish government to approve the Viking wind farm in Shetland will benefit wave power as well. The Aegir Wave Power scheme, a joint venture between the Swedish energy firm Vattenfall and Pelamis Wave Power, can only go ahead if an interconnector is constructed between Shetland and the mainland. That is also essential for the Viking wind farm, and the latest decision over the wind farm significantly increases the likelihood that an interconnector will be installed.
“This is fantastic news for the future development of our 10MW Aegir Wave Farm,” said Andrew Scott, development manager for the Aegir project, “and a big step forward to securing grid connection for marine projects in Shetland. Shetland and its communities are blessed with a huge marine renewable resource and we are working towards harnessing some of this energy to create a new exciting industry exporting clean power.”
There is now a series of key target dates for marine energy in Scotland. The first date comes later this year when the UK government announces details of a second marine energy park, which is likely to be based in Scotland. This will be in addition to the existing park off the south-west of England, which brings together university researchers and private companies.
Then, in 2014, a Pelamis Wave Power machine should undergo full-scale tests at the European Marine Energy Centre on Orkney. At the same time, the Aegir Wave Power Scheme will start work on environmental and other site assessments, before submitting a planning application to Marine Scotland, again in 2014.
Winning bids for the MEAD prize should be announced towards the end of this year, with the final projects up and running by 31 March 2016 at the latest.