Scottish Government announces 'world leading' marine energy project
SCOTLAND has taken a world-leading role in the emerging multi-billion-pound marine energy industry by approving ten projects with the potential to power almost a third of the country's homes.
• A Marine Current Turbine's SeaGen tidal energy converter. Picture: PA
In the first initiative of its kind in the world, companies were granted leasing rights for schemes that could result in up to 1,000 wave and tidal energy devices being installed in the sea off the north of Scotland.
The leasing round attracted interest from global utilities firms that will invest an estimated 4 billion attempting to bring the 1.2-gigawatt schemes to fruition. If successful, the power of the sea in the Pentland Firth between Caithness and Orkney could provide electricity for 750,000 of Scotland's 2.3 million homes by 2020.
• The locations of Scotland's proposed marine energy centres
First Minister Alex Salmond said Scotland could "rule the waves", as he unveiled the seven winners of a fierce two-year competition for leases that attracted applications from 20 companies worldwide. It is estimated the projects could create as many as 5,000 jobs in Scotland.
Today, the UK government will unveil its latest energy strategy, which includes more funding to drive forward the low-carbon industry.
However, there were warnings that huge challenges remain before the marine energy sector, which is relatively unproven, can take off. And taxpayers will have to fork out an estimated 1bn to create new infrastructure, such as an upgraded electricity grid and overhauled ports.
The Pentland Firth is the first area of sea around the UK to be opened up for marine renewables. The seven winning companies, ranging from global utility giants to small Scottish renewables firms, were yesterday granted leasing rights for ten Pentland Firth sites by the Crown Estate, which owns the seabed.
• Scotland's marine energy project: 'Many hurdles must be crossed for this to work'
Experts claimed the schemes would have four times the peak output of the former Dounreay nuclear power station, and a similar amount to an existing nuclear plant, such as Torness.
Mr Salmond told an audience at Our Dynamic Earth in Edinburgh that Scotland had the potential to become the "powerhouse of Europe", adding: "We can say in a real sense that Scotland rules the waves."
He went on: "Leading international energy companies and innovators continue to be drawn to Scottish waters, which boast as much as a quarter of Europe's tidal and offshore wind resource and a tenth of the continent's potential wave capacity."
Max Carcas, business development director at Leith company Pelamis, one of the winners, said Scotland had a genuine opportunity to play a leading role in the development of the emerging wave and tidal technology sector.
Whereas Scotland missed out to the likes of Denmark in building wind turbines – a global industry now worth 18bn – marine renewables could provide thousands of jobs and become an "export-led industry", he said.
"We have a lot of challenges and it's early days, but if we can deliver, the potential is huge," he said.
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He added that, whereas the British wind industry was dependent on foreign suppliers and the nuclear power sector used mainly French technology, this gave the opportunity for Scotland to become the leader in building, and eventually exporting, wave and tidal devices.
He went on: "This ticks the box environmentally. It ticks the box in terms of security of supply. There's no risk of the price of the fuel doubling or tripling, because it's free (from the wave or tides], and it also ticks the box of economics because it could create an export-led industry."
At least four of the ten schemes will use devices designed and built by Scottish companies – Pelamis and Aquamarine Power, both based in Edinburgh.
Even companies such as utility giant ScottishPower Renewables, which plans to use a device designed in Norway for a 100-megawatt site at Ness of Duncansby, are likely to build the machines in Scotland, so they can easily be transported to the Pentland Firth. However, yesterday's optimism came with warnings of huge challenges: from providing the necessary grid infrastructure to developing the expertise needed.
The investment needed for the ten projects would be, at about 4bn, similar to the cost of a new nuclear reactor. This will have to be funded entirely by the companies that won the ten leases, which also include Scottish and Southern Energy and E.on, bringing a likely cost to the consumer.
Already, the government's Renewables Obligation scheme, which provides incentives for utilities to focus on renewables development over new conventional power, adds about 12 a year to consumers' electricity bills.
Rob Hastings, director of the marine estate at the Crown Estate, said the schemes would show the world marine renewables could produce "meaningful" amounts of power. He added: "Nobody has attempted to do anything on this scale anywhere in the world."
Mr Hastings told The Scotsman that ultimately the Pentland Firth could generate up to 10GW – almost ten times the potential amount from the schemes approved yesterday, and more than enough to power all the homes in Scotland.
Meanwhile, one of the fathers of wave power, Professor Stephen Salter from the University of Edinburgh, said the potential of the Pentland Firth had been hugely underestimated.
"That area could generate more than the whole of the UK's needs," he said. "We should be putting huge amounts of effort into developing renewables there. It could be enormous, but what will probably happen is we will screw it up in the same way we did with wind and it will all be done in China.
"We have got to get cracking now. If we had worked steadily from the Seventies, we could have got the wave thing working very well now, but we wasted an awful lot of time."
Prof Salter called for more financial support from government and added: "All they have done is say, 'Right, you can use your allotment, here's your licence'. They are not giving them the money for it. We are not doing enough at the moment.
"The guys who are doing this are desperately short of money."
WEIRD AND WONDERFUL
A RANGE of bizarre machines from "oysters" to "sea snakes" could be installed in the seas off Scotland within ten years.
They include a wave machine made by Edinburgh firm Pelamis. Resembling a 180-metre red snake writhing on the surface of the water, it is the length of five train carriages.
The Oyster, made by another Edinburgh firm, Aquamarine Power, is a mechanical hinged flap connected to the sea bed. Each passing wave moves the flap, driving hydraulic pistons to deliver high-pressure water via a pipeline to an onshore turbine.
The Hammerfest Strom tidal machine that will be used by ScottishPower Renewables resembles an underwater wind turbine, with three blades.
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