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Twenty years of the European Marine Energy Centre marked at All-Energy

Published: 12/05/2023

Twenty years of pioneering marine energy work by Orkney’s European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC) were celebrated this week at the All-Energy conference in Glasgow.

Orkney Research and Innovation Campus, Stromness

The centre, headquartered in Stromness, remains the world’s first and only accredited grid-connected open sea facility for the testing of wave and tidal energy conversion technologies, operating to internationally recognised (UKAS) laboratory standards.  

Some £42m of public investment has been made in EMEC since it was established in 2003, with funding used to create innovative wave and tidal test facilities in Orkney and support the centre’s early operations.

EMEC now employs around 85 members of staff and is a core tenant of the Orkney Research and Innovation Campus (ORIC) in Stromness – a joint HIE/Orkney Islands Council (OIC) venture.

More marine energy technologies have been trialled at EMEC to date than at any other location across the globe. This unrivalled track record has helped to establish the reputation of Orkney and the wider Highlands and Islands as a globally important location for the test and demonstration of cutting-edge renewable energy generation technologies.

In addition, a highly skilled local supply chain has also built up around EMEC and the collaborative research and development activity involving the centre has forged many international partnerships. 

Over the years, Orkney has witnessed a number of notable UK and world firsts on the EMEC test sites, including delivery of the first power to the grid from an offshore wave energy device, and the first production of green hydrogen from tidal energy. The centre has even hosted trials of a novel underwater datacentre on behalf of Microsoft.

Most recently, and in response to changing industry conditions, EMEC has diversified substantially to become involved in delivering significant local developments in the fields of green hydrogen generation, distribution and end use, energy storage and whole energy systems, in addition to branching out into support for the emerging floating offshore wind (FOW) sector. 

Earlier this week, EMEC released findings from an economic impact assessment that found the creation of EMEC had instigated a return of £152m GVA to the Highlands and Islands economy.

EMEC’s 20th anniversary was marked at a special reception at All-Energy hosted by HIE and OIC on Wednesday 10 May. 

Graeme Harrison, area manager at HIE’s Orkney team, said: “Setting up EMEC in 2003 was seen by many as a leap of faith into the unchartered waters of marine energy, but everyone involved in bringing the project to fruition was well aware of the enormous potential that wave and tidal research held for the Highlands and Islands, and for the country as a whole. Ultimately, Orkney was chosen because of its ideal sea conditions and grid access, and its unrivalled marine operations and onshore support expertise.

“Since then, Orkney has been at the epicentre of developments within marine renewables, with the islands playing host to many notable firsts along the way. There have been challenges too, which is only to be expected when undertaking pioneering work of this nature. But throughout it all, EMEC has continued to adapt and evolve, always staying one step ahead of industry demands and responding to new opportunities, ensuring Orkney’s reputation as a low carbon centre of excellence is maintained and strengthened.”

He added: “EMEC continues to deliver its core functions as a marine energy test centre, yet it’s become so much more than originally envisaged with its ground-breaking work in green hydrogen and move into supporting the offshore wind sector. We congratulate the EMEC team on this milestone anniversary and look forward to the next 20 years of pioneering efforts to secure a better future for our planet.”

Neil Kermode, managing director of EMEC, said: “The unprecedented R&D activity around marine renewables in Orkney is thanks to the foresight and faith of government and Highlands and Islands Enterprise at the turn of the century. Over the last 20 years EMEC has diversified well beyond the initial aspirations having supported R&D in wave and tidal energy, floating offshore wind, green hydrogen, subsea data centres and smart energy systems. 

“EMEC’s 20-year economic impact assessment highlights the value that comes from these activities, creating jobs, a sought-after supply chain, export opportunities and encouraging investment into renewables.

"The learning and innovation amassed has led to improved installation methods, complete redesign of technologies, cost reductions and regulatory change, supporting the development of our future clean energy system. Yet the benefits accrued through such innovative activities at our sites exemplifies just a microcosm of what can be achieved on a far larger scale if we wholeheartedly push on developing industries that will help solve the climate crisis.

"So, it is with sincere thanks to those that have supported us in reaching our 20-year anniversary – we’re excited to see where the next twenty will take us.”

Convener of Orkney Islands Council, Graham Bevan, said: “Over the last 20 years, EMEC - from their home in the centre of town at the Old Academy buildings - has become a significant part of the fabric of Stromness, of Orkney and the wider energy industry.

"For me, one of the most important things has been their focus on the development of young talent - whether that be our young people returning to live and work in their home community or providing employment to the students graduating locally, enabling them to stay on in Orkney and build their lives here.  On behalf of the Council, I congratulate Neil and his team on this incredible milestone and wish them many more years of success." 


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