We lead the world in marine power as industry takes first steps toward commercialisation, says Lindsay Leask
Scotland is renowned around the world as an innovative nation, with an impressive and lengthy list of scientific breakthroughs and inventions credited to its remarkable pioneers, from penicillin to the wind turbine.
In the near future, marine energy will almost certainly be added to that list. Scotland is a genuine world leader and has taken significant steps forward in 2014, including the opening of the world’s most sophisticated tidal and wave simulator at the University of Edinburgh.
The £10.5 million FloWave tank contains 2.4 million litres of water and allows marine energy developers to carry out large-scale lab tests of devices and components in Scotland, rather than having to go overseas.
The European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC), where many of these devices hit the ocean for the first time, is unchallenged as a global leader in testing wave and tidal technologies, with more marine prototypes connected to the electricity grid than any other single site in the world.
There are high hopes for the devices being tested at EMEC, and the industry is taking real strides forward on its journey to commercialisation.
Last month’s announcement of a £50 million funding package for the first phase of the MeyGen tidal energy project in the Pentland Firth is proof that we are within touching distance of the world’s first commercial scale tidal array being deployed in Scottish waters. Work is scheduled to begin this year, with the ultimate aim to have 269 turbines submerged on the seabed between Caithness and Orkney, generating enough energy to power the equivalent of 175,000 homes – a significant contribution to our energy needs.
Other exciting developments for the sector over the past 12 months include the leasing of four new wave and tidal sites by the Crown Estate, two of which will jointly managed by EMEC and local community trusts, and the inaugral generation of electricity from the world’s first community-owned tidal turbine in Yell, Shetland.
All these developments will be up for discussion next week (23-24 September) at Scottish Renewables’ annual marine conference, exhibition and dinner in Inverness.
The progress of the industry will be outlined at a “speed update” session featuring ten key players including Dan Pearson, chief executive of MeyGen, Stuart Brown of FloWave and Richard Yemm of Pelamis Wave Power.
The session will give an exciting snapshot of an industry which is gathering momentum.
This sense of purpose and progress will be highlighted further by new figures indicating continued heavy investment in the marine sector and the emergence of a predominantly Scottish supply chain.
Supporting and enhancing this domestic supply chain is crucial if Scotland is to realise the full potential of its offshore renewable industry and create jobs across Scotland. The geographically-diverse nature of the renewables sector means all parts of Scotland are sharing in its success: almost 12,000 full-time jobs are supported by renewable energy in Scotland, with around 1,500 across the Highlands and Islands.
EMEC alone supports around 120 jobs in Orkney, and more than 260 throughout the UK and further afield.
Many of these are skilled jobs which put Scotland in the enviable position of being able to export knowledge and expertise and continue its global leadership role in the sector.
A “global outlook” session at the conference will examine how Scotland can build on its legacy of marine energy innovation, which began in the 1970s with Professor Stephen Salter of Edinburgh University and his “nodding duck” demonstrating how wave motion could be stopped and converted successfully into electricity, and coming right up to date with FloWave.
However, the industry faces a series of challenges if it is to fully capitalise on its phenomenal potential.
One of the greatest is access to the grid. It is essential that we secure the grid infrastructure that will enable this burgeoning industry to flourish on our islands. The right infrastructure at the right price – that is the challenge, and it’s something we at Scottish Renewables are working with the Scottish and UK governments on now.
There are also challenges around regulatory burdens and technical issues – but next week’s marine conference is not titled Scotland: The Innovation Nation for nothing.
The title reflects a real confidence in the ability of Scots to rise to those challenges successfully and add marine energy to the long list of areas where its pioneers have led the world.
• Lindsay Leask is senior policy officer with Scottish Renewables. Scottish Renewables’ marine conference, exhibition and dinner 2014 is being held in Inverness on 23-24 September