European Marine Energy Centre
Since 2003, Orkney has been home to the European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC), the world’s first and foremost test site for real life deployment of marine energy devices. This has placed Orkney at the forefront of the development of marine renewables – technologies that generate electricity for homes and businesses by harnessing the power of waves and tidal streams. As the first centre of its kind to be created anywhere in the world, EMEC offers developers the opportunity to test full scale grid connected prototype devices in unrivalled wave and tidal conditions. EMEC also operates two scale test sites where smaller scale technologies, supply chain companies, and equipment manufacturers, can gain real sea experience in less challenging conditions than those experienced at the grid-connected wave and tidal test sites.
Ocean waves are created by the interaction of wind with the surface of the sea. The size of the waves is determined by the wind, the seafloor and currents. Waves have the potential to provide a completely sustainable source of energy which can be captured and converted into electricity by wave energy converter machines. Orkney’s exposed position off the northern-most tip of Scotland results in spectacular wave energy potential, with EMEC recording an average significant wave height of 2 – 3 metres, reaching extremes of up to 19m.
A wide range of wave energy developers have come to Orkney to test their devices in EMEC’s grid connected, real-sea test sites. Some have achieved huge milestones during this testing, including a world first in August 2004 when Pelamis Wave Power became the first in the world to generate electricity into a grid system from offshore wave energy.
Tidal energy exploits the natural ebb and flow of coastal tidal waters caused principally by the interaction of the gravitational fields of the earth, moon and sun. Fast sea currents are often magnified by topographical features, such as headlands, inlets and straits, or by the shape of the seabed when water is forced through narrow channels. Tidal current energy is therefore very site specific, but has the distinct advantage of being highly predictable compared with some other forms of renewable energy which makes tidal energy development an attractive resource option.
EMEC’s grid-connected tidal test site at the Fall of Warness is situated just west of the island of Eday – lying in a narrow channel between the Westray Firth and Stronsay Firth. The site was chosen for its high velocity marine currents which reach almost 4m/sec (7.8 knots) at spring tides. The test site was officially opened by Scotland’s First Minister in September 2007, and in 2008 Dublin based company OpenHydro became first tidal stream generator to successfully generate electricity to the National Grid in the UK.
Tidal energy developers from all over the world have tested their devices in Orkney waters. French company Alstom celebrated an impressive milestone at the end of 2014, as their 1MW tidal turbine generated over 1GWh of electricity to the Scottish grid, enough to power the whole of Orkney for over two days. Meanwhile, Andritz Hydro Hammerfest attracted an order from MeyGen Ltd to supply three 1.5MW tidal turbines to the planned tidal array in the Inner Sound of the Pentland Firth, following their successful grid generation results at EMEC’s Fall of Warness test site.