Tim Hurst in front of yellow tidal device

A viable wave energy sector is forming in Scotland and should be celebrated, writes Tim Hurst, managing director of Wave Energy Scotland (WES).

It’s hard to grasp the full significance of what’s happening off Orkney this year. Indeed, it’s fair to say it could reshape the future of Scotland’s energy industry.

Two wave energy devices - Mocean Energy's Blue X unit and AWS Ocean's Waveswing - are being put to the ultimate test, with a focus on performance and reliability.

For many years the entire energy industry has wanted to see proven technology and we are now at that point.

It follows more than six years of innovation, development and testing, £41.6m Scottish Government investment, the culmination of 96 different projects, and the combined efforts of more than 230 organisations from 13 countries.

From the outset, the process has been about collaboration and shared knowledge and experience.

It has been WES’s role to lead the development programme from day one, building on the intellectual property garnered from earlier pioneers of wave energy technology. Working with participants, we tested and evaluated their technologies, including materials, controls, connections and the ability to harness power.

Now, the country is poised to fully capitalise on all that this has achieved, both for the wider wave sector and for the specific opportunities now offered by these two promising devices.

The demonstration is part of a long-term plan that includes deployment of next-generation units in 2023, multi-device arrays in 2024-25 and commercialisation on a utility scale in 2030.

Not only are both AWS and Mocean Energy based in Scotland but so too is 80% of the supply chains for these two projects. This is a dramatic increase on other renewable energy technologies, including wind and solar.

And timing of the test couldn’t be more appropriate. It also coincides with this year’s COP26 climate conference in Glasgow and the acceleration of efforts to achieve net zero carbon emissions in Scotland by 2045 and in the wider UK by 2050. Next-generation renewable electricity projects will be key in helping to slow global warming.

There is also greater optimism now in securing the appropriate support mechanism within the UK Government’s Contracts for Difference scheme.  This support programme for low carbon electricity generation is expected to be adapted to make it easier for wave power to reach the market.

Commercial investment is of course a crucial step in the journey to utility-scale deployment, so our ongoing test and demonstration programme has also been about creating activity and circumstances that will attract that investment.

And even though wave energy technology remains somewhat behind tidal power, the rewards are potentially much greater. For example, the available resource is almost unlimited when compared with the much narrower range of sites suited to tidal devices.

The Wave Energy Scotland programme has been a success, certainly. Results have been so positive that the European Commission is mirroring the approach through its EuropeWave initiative, which supports the most promising wave energy ideas.

But what’s more important is that the technology is a success. It’s been a challenging few years and the challenges will continue, but a credible, viable wave sector is definitely taking shape in Scotland. That is a world-first and should be celebrated.

Wave Energy Scotland was established in 2014 as a subsidiary of Highlands and Islands Enterprise and tasked with leading wave energy development in Scotland. The organisation has a team of 12 people based in Inverness, Benbecula, Stornoway and Edinburgh.

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