Standing between the Atlantic and the North Sea, Orkney is home to some of the most energy-rich waters in Europe, some of the strongest winds, and a community that has embraced the potential of the energy islands.

Following a report by a House of Commons committee on UK territorial waters in 1999, it was identified that a test and research site was essential to kick-start the marine renewables industry in the UK.

Orkney was chosen in 2001, due to the harsh oceanic wave regime, strong tidal currents, sheltered harbours facilities, and existing expertise in the local community in renewables and maritime industries.

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 marine energy technologies. This has placed Orkney at the forefront of the development of marine renewable energy, technologies that generate electricity by harnessing the power of waves and tides.

To date, more marine energy devices have been tested at EMEC than at any other single site in the world, with 35 marine energy devices by 2022

Wave energy

The UK has the potential to deliver around 35% of Europe’s wave energy potential. 

Tidal energy

The UK has the potential to deliver around 50% of Europe’s tidal energy potential.  

Wave energy

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 18m at their wave energy test site at Billia Croo.

The first generation Pelamis P1 (Credit Pelamis Wave Power)
Aquamarine Powers Oyster 800 wave energy machine in operation (Credit Aquamarine Power)
Wello Penguin operating at EMEC Billia Croo wave test site (Credit Colin Keldie courtesy of CEFOW)
Seatricity's point absorber energy converter system at Billia Croo (Credit Mike Brookes-Roper)
AWS Waveswing installed at EMEC Scapa Flow test site (Credit EMEC)
Mocean Blue X at EMEC Scapa Flow test site (Credit Colin Keldie)

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:

  • 2004 –  Pelamis Wave Power became the first in the world to generate electricity into a grid system from offshore wave energy.
  • 2009Aquamarine Power launched their near shore ‘Oyster’ device, which was the world’s largest working hydro-electric wave energy device.
  • 2012Wello Oy deployed their Penguin device on-site for the first time.

Tidal 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 the first tidal stream generator to successfully generate electricity to the National Grid in the UK.

OpenHydro test rig at the EMEC tidal test site (Credit Mike Brookes-Roper)
TGL 500 kW tidal turbine transport to EMEC Fall of Warness tidal test site (Credit TGL)
HS1000 tidal turbine at EMEC test site (Credit Andritz Hydro Hammerfest)
Flumill helical corkscrew tidal device (Credit Mike Brookes Roper)
Magallanes Renovables ATIR installation (Credit Colin Keldie, Courtesy Ocean_2G)
Orbital 02 generating at EMEC (Credit Orbital Marine Power)

Tidal energy developers from all over the world have tested their devices in Orkney waters. To name a few:

  • 2011 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.
  • 2014 – French company Alstom celebrated an impressive milestone 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.
  • 2021Orbital Marine Power‘s O2 being demonstrated at EMEC, installed July 2021. Two previous iterations of this technology have tested at EMEC, the latest tested from 2016-2018 and generated over 3 GWh within one year from just a single prototype.