Later this summer, the bright yellow 20-meter-long kit – dubbed Blue X – will be transported to one of the test sites at the European Marine Energy Center, where it will undergo the first sea trials.
Developed by a company called Mocean Energy, the Blue X will be the latest technology to be put to the test at Orkney-based EMEC.
Many other companies have undertaken testing at the site over the years. They include Orbital Marine Power, in Scotland, which is working on what it describes as the most powerful tidal turbine in the world, Spanish tidal energy company Magallanes Renovables and ScottishPower Renewables, which is part of the Iberdrola group.
There are many reasons why businesses come to Orkney – but two in particular are essential: strong waves and tides.
“These kinds of natural resources are… unmatched,” Matthew Finn, EMEC business director, told CNBC in a telephone interview.
“What’s really unique about Orkney is that you have these high energy elements next to pretty protected harbors and coves,” he added.
“And right in the middle of the Orkney Islands is Scapa Flow, which is one of the largest protected anchorages in Europe, if not the world, so you can go from those… high energy resources to quite benign environments and protected. “
This is important when it comes to the research and development phase of projects, Finn said: “If you need to do maintenance cycles or if you need to do something with your device, it’s pretty quick to get started. render ports and ports to test sites. and back, so I think that’s a huge natural benefit. ”
Putting marine energy on the map
Since its inception in 2003, EMEC has become a major hub for wave and tidal energy development, helping to place the UK at the heart of the planet’s emerging marine energy sector.
“EMEC was created as a flagship organization, with the idea that if you could invest a lot in a single installation, it would reduce the time, cost and risk of bringing these technologies to market,” Finn explained. .
So far 36 million pounds ($ 50.98 million) has been invested in EMEC. Funders include the Scottish Government, UK Government, European Union, Orkney Islands Council, Carbon Trust and Highlands and Islands Enterprise.
Along with miles of coastline and abundant natural resources, facilities such as EMEC also build on the UK’s long history of marine industries and leading academic institutions.
“There is a lot of legacy from other sectors, oil and gas being one but (also) aquaculture; a lot of engineering disciplines that are really strong, ”Finn explained,“ and universities sort of grab a hold of that stuff and pump out a lot of innovation and ideas and people. “
The latter point was illustrated earlier this year when it was announced that some £ 7.5million in public funding would be used to support the development of eight wave energy projects led by UK universities.
The importance of testing
Cameron McNatt is the Managing Director of Mocean Energy. Speaking to CNBC, he explained how his company – which has offices in Scotland and whose manufacturing and testing program has been backed by Wave Energy Scotland to the tune of £ 3.3million – would use EMEC to test the giant Blue X Wave energy converter for the weeks and months to come.
First, what he described as “focus testing” would take place in the sheltered waters of Scapa Flow.
“Then it will be moved to the largest open site in the Atlantic, Billia Croo, where it will really see some pretty serious waves and generate more power,” he added. “We are going to test… energy production, reliability, survivability. “
Installation connected to the grid, Billia Croo is described by EMEC as having “one of the highest wave energy potentials in Europe”.
According to the organization, its significant average wave height varies between 2 and 3 meters, with the highest wave in EMEC records reaching 18 meters.
As to how Mocean Energy’s technology might be deployed in real-world scenarios, McNatt said she is focusing on delivering energy to operations related to the oil and gas sector.
“While it might be a little funny to apply renewables in oil and gas, there is a real demand,” he said. “Operators are looking to reduce their carbon footprint and make the transition to … cleaner energy.”
“We see this as a stepping stone and a path to the development… of technologies on a larger scale,” he added.
While Orkney is now well established as a major hub for testing wave and tidal systems, the UK’s marine energy sector is also looking to play a larger international role.
Speaking to CNBC, Robert Norris, communications manager at trade association RenewableUK, sought to emphasize the point.
“As an island nation, we have the best marine energy resource in Europe,” he said via email.
“We already sell our marine energy technology around the world,” he added, citing the example of Nova Innovation, headquartered in Scotland, which exports tidal turbines to Canada.
There may be enthusiasm in some circles regarding the potential of marine energy, but its current footprint is small compared to other renewable technologies such as solar and wind power.
Recent figures from Ocean Energy Europe show that only 260 kilowatts of tidal current capacity were added in Europe last year, while only 200 kW of wave energy was installed.
By comparison, 2020 saw 14.7 gigawatts of wind power capacity installed in Europe, according to industry body WindEurope.
Despite this, tidal and wave energy could have an important role to play in the years to come, as countries attempt to decarbonize their energy mix and achieve ambitious emission reduction targets.
The European Commission, for example, wants the capacity of ocean energy technologies to reach 100 megawatts by 2025 and around 1 gigawatt by 2030.
Across the Channel, discussions on the role of marine energy in the UK continue, with cost reduction seen as essential for the sector to thrive. In a report released earlier this month, RenewableUK called on the government to also set a target of 1 gigawatt of marine power.
The London-based organization added: “Just as with floating wind, a 1 GW marine energy target set in the 2030s would not just mean confidence in the world’s marine energy, but would also demonstrate the UK’s commitment to achieving them. technologies a competitive solution for others to adopt. “