600ft 'sea snake' to harness power of Scotland

LIKE a giant red sea snake, the 600ft machine oscillates on the surface of the sea, generating electricity solely from the movement of the waves.

• The first Pelamis wave-power device, called Vagr Atferd, sits in the waters of Leith after its official launch yesterday. Picture: Jane Barlow

Within a decade, it is estimated hundreds of the devices, each the length of a five-carriage train and capable of powering 500 homes, could be installed in the seas around Scotland.

Pelamis Wave Power's machine, which has taken 12 years to come to fruition, was officially launched in Edinburgh yesterday by First Minister Alex Salmond. It was heralded as a "milestone" for the marine energy sector in Scotland, which experts believe could become a multi-billion-pound export industry employing more than 10,000 people within a decade.

As Mr Salmond unveiled a plaque naming the 750-kilowatt machine Vagr Atferd – it's Norse for wave power and was the brainchild of Matthew Rendall, 11, from Orkney – he said: "Scotland is well placed to become the clean, green energy powerhouse of Europe, with as much as 10 per cent of its wave-power potential, as well as an estimated quarter of the Continent's offshore wind and tidal energy capacity. Today is another significant step in that journey."

The machine, which cost millions of pounds to design and build at Pelamis's factory in Leith, has been bought by the German energy giant Eon. It is the UK's first commercial supply contract in the marine energy sector.

The device will be transported to the European Marine Energy Centre (Emec) in Orkney for several years of testing ahead of commercial use. Ultimately, Eon hopes to install 66 machines in the Pentland Firth, after winning the rights to a site in a leasing round by the Crown Estate.

With 200 people involved in building the first Vagr Atferd machine, there are predictions the sector could become a major employer.

ScottishPower Renewables and Pelamis itself have leases to install similar numbers of the devices at other sites in the Pentland Firth, which is the first area of sea in the UK to be opened up for the development of marine renewables.

It is estimated marine renewables could create more than 12,000 jobs in Scotland, and, together with offshore wind, could generate revenues similar to those of the oil and gas sector.

While Scotland and the UK missed out on a significant role in onshore and offshore wind manufacturing, experts say it is currently leading the way in marine renewables.

Max Carcas, business development director at Pelamis Wave Power, said: "With other options, we have missed the boat or don't have the technology base to do it any more.

"That's one of the really strong points with wave energy. We have got the potential for it to be a very significant employer and a very significant export industry."

He said Scotland should be trying to emulate what the Danes had achieved with wind power. Last year, they exported more than 5.7 billion of turbines.

Other key players based in Scotland include Aquamarine Power, another Edinburgh firm, which is testing its Oyster wave-power device at Emec.

Dr Richard Dixon, director of WWF Scotland, said: "Given the huge renewable energy potential around our coast, and the strong skills in offshore engineering, marine energy offers a fantastic opportunity for Scotland.

"Scotland is well ahead of the game in exploiting wave power, and continued support for these green energy schemes will deliver huge export benefits in technology and expertise."

Dr Paul Golby, chief executive of Eon UK, said the Vagr Atferd launch marked "a milestone in marine technology and the next exciting step for renewable energy in the UK".

Johanna Yates, marine and hydro policy manager at industry body Scottish Renewables, said: "This is another exciting chapter for marine renewables on the back of the lease announcements earlier this year.

"The celebration marks not only Pelamis's achievements, but shows the next step of the industry as Eon's order is the first of its kind for wave power."


&#149 At 600ft, the snake-like device is as long as the Gherkin building in London is tall. It is the length of five train carriages.

&#149 It was built by Pelamis, which took its name from species of sea snake.

&#149 The generator weighs 1,500 tonnes.

&#149 200 people were involved in building the machine.

&#149 Its development attracted 4.8 million funding from the Marine Renewables Proving Fund, provided by the UK government.

&#149 It was built entirely in Scotland, at a giant warehouse in Leith, Edinburgh.

&#149 The machine was named "Vagr Atferd" yesterday. The name was chosen by Matthew Rendall from Stromness Primary School in a competition among Orkney school children. The name is Norse for "wave power".

&#149 Vagr Atferd will now be transported 200 nautical miles to Orkney for three years of testing ahead of commercial deployment.


• Gareth Williams: Scotland must not miss this wave – the chance to lead world in marine power