A £5million expansion of the world's flagship test centre for full-scale wave and tidal energy machines has increased its capacity by a third - enabling new prototype devices to go into the water this year.
Based in Scotland's Orkney Islands, the European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC), has taken its set of test sites from nine to twelve. Two tidal berths have been added to make seven and a fifth wave power test berth has also been created.
International tidal developers, Atlantis Resources Corporation and Voith Hydro Ocean Current Technologies, have contracted to begin installing huge turbine prototypes on the new tidal berths this year, and Finnish company Wello Oy is preparing to trial a wave energy device next year.
The expansion, involving laying more than two miles of subsea cabling, comes just three months after the centre also announced its identification of some wave and tidal "nursery sites". These will be developed to meet international demand from businesses with smaller prototypes, plugging the gap between test tanks and full ocean conditions.
EMEC managing director Neil Kermode said: "These moves ensure that Scotland's Highlands and Islands stay right in the global forefront of marine energy as it accelerates. Our full-scale sites were almost full to capacity but, having created new space for other devices, we now still have room for new wave and tidal developers."
Since its inception in 2004 as the first full scale, grid-connected test facility in the world, EMEC has attracted 11 device developers, including Pelamis Wave Power, Aquamarine Power, OpenHydro and Tidal Generation Limited.
The centre's tidal test area, off the island of Eday, was chosen for its high-speed currents which can reach almost 8 knots. The wave test facility, on the western edge of Orkney's mainland, has some of the highest wave energy in Europe.
Elaine Hanton, joint head of energy at Highlands and Islands Enterprise, said: "This successful expansion of EMEC's facilities highlights the fact that the Highlands and Islands continues to be the most important offshore renewable energy hub for the UK and beyond. In addition to EMEC, the region has an experienced and rapidly growing supply chain of 600 companies, delivering real results through innovation, new contracts and international links.
"Companies from the USA, Brazil, the Netherlands, Norway and Denmark, for example, have already identified the potential for business in this region through trade visits and contracts. Working with our public sector and industry partners, including the energy industry's trade body North Scotland Industries Group, we have established our ambition to realise the full potential of our region's energy expertise. Indeed, the news this week that Hammerfest Strom UK (HSUK) is to build, test and deploy one of the world's most advanced tidal turbines in the Highlands and Islands is further testament to the energy supply chain and extensive natural resources we have to offer this global market."
Funding of EMEC's development, co-ordinated by Highlands and Islands Enterprise, has involved partners including the Scottish and UK Governments, Scottish Enterprise, Orkney Islands Council, the Carbon Trust and European Commission. Funding from the UK Government's Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), allowed creation of the new test berths.