The UK's second Marine Energy Park was opened yesterday by energy and climate change minister Greg Barker at Thurso in Caithness, Scotland.
The Pentland Firth and Orkney Waters Marine Energy Park will incorporate the world-leading European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC). Established in 2003, this provides 14 internationally recognised and independently accredited purpose-built, open sea test facilities for wave and tidal energy converters.
“The new designation as a marine energy park will accelerate investment and the industry’s ambition for commercialisation of the technologies being tested here," explained Lorne Crerar, chairman of Highlands and Islands Enterprise, at the event.
“It’s great to see Pentland Firth and Orkney Waters confirm their place on the marine power map with the launch of the second of the Coalition Government’s UK Marine Energy Parks," said Greg Barker.
He said it was "really important for the site to bring together not just the manufacturers, the commercial developers and the entrepreneurs in the right geographic place, to give them the facilities they need to create a future industry, but also the research and academic institutions and government as well, and bring a sense of dynamism to this very important part of the local economy".
Eileen Linklater, speaking for the Marine Energy Centre, said that to bring marine technology to the commercial level, they needed all the people in the whole of the local area to come together. The Centre is having a massive impact on the community. Potentially, it has the capacity to make as much difference to the economy of this part of the UK as the oil and gas industry has in the past.
As well as large-scale testing, EMEC also provides facilities for testing smaller scale wave and tidal devices, a wide range of consultancy and research services, and is at the forefront in the development of industry standards.
The Centre was established with around £30m of funding from the Scottish Government, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, the Carbon Trust, the UK Government, Scottish Enterprise, the European Union and Orkney Islands Council but today EMEC is fully self-sufficient, following a large influx of developers from across the world who have chosen to test their technologies in Orkney waters.
"The test sites of the European Marine Energy Centre in Orkney have established it as a world-leading facility in the testing and certification of marine energy devices, allowing a competitive advantage for a new UK industry," said the Convener of Orkney Islands Council, Councillor Steven Heddle.
He said this “has led to the growth of a local supply chain and technical expertise geared towards marine renewables which is second to none. The launch of the Marine Energy Park formalises that leading role," he added.
Niall Stuart, CEO of Scottish Renewables, believes that locally-generated marine energy will reach commercial reality by 2020, around when 1.5GW of power will be coming onstream under existing contractual arrangements.
Greg Barker opened the first UK Marine Energy Park in South West England last January. This one is located at the new state-of-the-art Engineering, Technology & Energy Centre in Thurso. This is close to Pentland Firth and Orkney Waters, which lie between the mainland and the island of Stromness.
Here, tidal currents are extremely fast, amongst the fastest around the UK coast, and the waves can get very strong. Conditions are harsh, to say the least, for complex engineering to survive and operate reliably; an ideal testing ground.
As leader of the Highland Council, Councillor Drew Hendry, pointed out, the waters are already a vital part of the UK’s growing marine sector. It is the site of the world’s first commercial scale leasing round for marine energy, which is managed by the Crown Estate (TCE).
There are 11 successful bids from developers for sites in Scotland’s Pentland Firth and Orkney waters, who propose up to 1.6 GW (600 MW from wave and 1000MW from tidal stream), which could, if developed to full capacity, meet the electricity needs of up to three quarters of a million homes.
Scrabster Harbour in Thurso is already expanding its facilities. Under its "three ports strategy", Orkney Islands Council is investing in new and upgraded pier and quayside facilities at Lyness, Hatston and Stromness, providing support facilities at key strategic locations.
The government estimates that energy from waves and tidal currents has the potential to generate 27GW of power in the UK alone by 2050, equivalent to the power generated from eight coal-fired power stations. Even greater potential lies in exporting British expertise in the area around the world. It provided a £20m Marine Energy Array Demonstration Fund earlier this year to help progress the development of marine devices from the current large scale prototypes to bigger formations.
Later-stage technology development and demonstration funding is provided through bodies such as the Technology Strategy Board, the Carbon Trust and the Energy Technologies Institute. The UK Marine Energy Programme board plays a central role in advising ministers what actions to take to help advance the industry, and comprises energy utilities, industrial companies, technology developers, financiers and Devolved Administrations.
Story: David Thorpe, News Editor