Thirty five years on……….

When I mention to friends, family and neighbors that the Highlands and Islands is leading the world in the development of a whole new energy industry, they tend to look at best quizzical, and at worst disbelieving. I like to remind them that in 1976 Dores bay in Loch Ness was the test bed for Scotland’s first wave device, Stephen Salter’s Nodding Duck. The fate of that technology was contentious, shelved some say as a result of closed door meetings in Whitehall and secret memos from rival technologies.  

Yet fast forward thirty five years, and we now see those early dreams for wave power, and tidal stream energy becoming a solid commercial and political reality. Indeed it has been quite some year for the marine energy industry in Scotland and more specifically the Highlands and Islands. The sector received a major boost when the Scottish Government announced its target for 100% of Scotland’s electricity demand to be met by renewable energy – 1GW of which is to come from wave and tidal energy resources. That’s not just a few marine energy devices, that’s a full size underwater power station. 

While this is clearly a huge challenge for Scotland’s emerging marine energy sector, it also provides us with huge opportunities. Despite there only being just over three megawatts of marine energy currently installed in the UK, (the equivalent of one modern on-shore wind turbine), all of it is here in the Highlands and Islands. In the islands in fact, on Islay and at the European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC) in Orkney. Yet despite the modest current foot print of the industry, 2011 has also seen a flurry of activity that make that 1GW target more than just a pipe dream, with commercial scale devices generating electricity, major international companies investing in the region and Highland wave power expertise delivering new projects in Spain.  

Firstly, and over the past few months, all of EMEC’s wave and tidal test sites became contracted to developers and has EMEC started to reap the benefits of significant developer activity, high berth occupancy and associated income. All of this has enabled it to become operationally self-sustaining. This is a significant measure of the health of the emerging marine renewables sector.  

Next, one of our local companies AWS Ocean Energy received a huge vote of confidence with an overseas investment from Alstom, the French-headquartered global power generation, transmission and rail transportation company. In June, Alstom acquired a 40 per cent stake in Inverness-based AWS, developer of the AWS-III wave power device. 

Then, in July, technology developed here in the Highlands at Inverness-based Voith Hydro Wavegen was used for Spain’s first commercial wave power plant. The project on the Basque seaport of Mutriku, located between Bilbao and San  Sebastian, will provide an output of 300kW – sufficient electricity for around 250 homes. This may seem modest, but its about the same size as the first commercial wind turbines that appeared across the Highlands in the late 1990’s. Today the standard wind turbine has 10 times the output.  

But if you are in any doubt about the reality of the marine energy sector, and the progress on capturing energy from our waves and tides, a quick visit to Orkney would likely impress you. In the waters around Orkney, a hive of deployment, commissioning, testing and decommissioning activity is keeping a surprising proportion of the Orkney workforce very busy. EMEC, one of our region’s greatest energy success stories, is the world’s first grid-connected, accredited test centre for wave and tidal energy device testing. This summer, the test centre became fully contracted, with 10 full-scale wave and tidal prototype devices due to be on site by the end of this year. Tidal devices currently at the Centre include those deployed by Open Hydro, Tidal Generation Ltd, Atlantis Resources Corporation, Voith Hydro Ocean Current Technologies. Currently at the wave site are: Eon/Pelamis, Wello Oy and Aquamarine Power.

At EMEC companies from Scotland, England, the USA, Singapore, Finland, Ireland, are all testing, monitoring, researching, and planning how they can make the next step to full commercial generation, and all helped by a growing local supply chain. From resource monitoring and environmental impact experts to divers and ROV operators; and from specially commissioned vessels to high voltage design and installation engineers, the region is home to the world’s foremost support services network for marine energy device deployment. 

While Orkney has benefited from being the location of the first major step in the development of full-scale prototype marine energy device testing, Caithness and Sutherland will play a pivotal role in the next stage. Its proximity to the Pentland Firth and Orkney Waters where The Crown Estate has approved 1.6GW of development rights for large-scale wave and tidal arrays during 2010, and its enviable legacy of engineering skills and facilities will make it an attractive location as developers scale-up to pre-commercial and commercial device deployment.

The £10m Saltire Prize was launched in Scotland in March 2010, creating one of the biggest international innovation prizes in history. With our word-class facilities and extensive wave and tidal resources, the Highlands and Islands offer an ideal place for the winner to put their technology to the test.

The region also has world-class fabrication and port infrastructure, developed during the oil and gas boom of the 70s and 80s, and now ready to be put to use building the next generation of renewable energy capacity. Recent examples include Aquamarine’s first Oyster device, the OpenHydro foundation, the structures for Ocean Power Technologies’ (OPT) PowerBuoy 150 and the Atlantis AK1000 being fabricated at the Nigg Yard by Isleburn and the structures for Pelamis and the Hammerfest Strom’s HS1000 at the Arnish Yard on the Western Isles.

In addition, HIE has recently made million-pound investments in other key infrastructure sites that will be required for this emerging sector, both in Caithness at Scrabster Harbour Trust and Orkney for property at Hatston Pier, which complements funding totalling £11m from Orkney Islands Council and the European Regional Development Fund for Hatston Pier and Lyness Harbour.  

With all this exciting marine energy activity underway in the Highlands and Islands, we really can claim to be the world’s leading region in marine energy development. And so we are delighted that Inverness will be hosting this year’s Scottish Renewables Marine Energy Conference and Exhibition in next week. This will be the third year of hosting the event, which will take place at Eden Court on Monday 19th and Tuesday 20th September 2011, with a conference dinner on the Monday evening at the Bishop’s Palace, Eden Court. The event is expected to attract more than 220 delegates and 30 exhibitors from industry, local and national government,  regulators and academia.

I look forward to seeing you in Eden Court next week.




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