Wave energy firm agrees £2m deal

SCOTLAND'S ambition to become a leader in marine energy will take another step forward tomorrow with the announcement of a £2m contract to install the UK's first near-shore wave energy generator off the coast of Orkney.

Aquamarine Power, a renewable energy firm based in Edinburgh, has signed a 2m contract with marine construction group Fugro Seacore to install its 'Oyster' convertor at the European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC) in Orkney.

The technology, designed for waters of between eight and 16 metres in depth, is expected to be installed 500 metres offshore by the autumn.

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It is hoped that it will contribute between 300kW and 600kW to the National Grid, a small step towards the Scottish Government's goal to source 50% of the country's electricity from renewable sources by 2020.

The scheme in Orkney is the first in what Aquamarine hopes will be a string of projects after it last month agreed a joint venture with a subsidiary of Scottish & Southern Energy to develop one gigawatt of wave and tidal power off the coast of the UK and Ireland by 2020.

The deal with Airtricity, the renewable energy firm acquired by SSE in 2008 for 1bn, was heralded as "the biggest deal in the history of marine energy".

Work has also begun on another unnamed location and Aquamarine is investigating several other sites.

Aquamarine's Oyster converter consists of a single pump which, when hit by a wave, sends high-pressure water through a pipeline beneath the sea to an onshore generator. This then converts the water into electricity using hydroelectric generators.

Martin McAdam, chief executive of Aquamarine Power, said: "The future of electricity generated from wave energy starts now."

So far marine energy has been slow off the starting block compared with more developed technologies such as hydro and wind power, but experts predict that Scotland could eventually account for 25% of Europe's total tidal electricity generation and 10% of wave energy generation.

The Scottish Government-backed EMEC already plays host to two other marine energy technologies including a deep-water floating device designed by Edinburgh firm Pelamis Wave Power.

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However, it is thought it will be several years before marine energy becomes a credible, commercially viable force in renewable energy generation.

According to figures from the Scottish Government, there are currently 0.5 megawatts (MW) of installed and planned wave capacity in Scotland compared with 1,550MW for wind, 1,380MW for hydro and 79MW for biomass.

At a renewable energy conference held in Edinburgh last month, Neil Kermode, managing director of EMEC, admitted: "The industry is much closer at the moment to the Wright brothers than to Airbus."