Is blue energy about to ride a wave?

stormy waves

Tide and wave energy may be the missing link to Britain’s carbon-free future

Orkney’s fast-flowing tidal inlets and coastlines have been test sites for weird and wonderful wave and tidal energy prototypes for two decades now. More are being expanded and plugged into the UK grid, but bringing a renewable energy source like ocean energy to market demands extensive research and development.

The exterior of an Orbital tidal turbine at the Orkney tidal test site near Billia Croo
An Orbital tidal turbine at the Orkney tidal test site near Billia Croo
Image: Orbital Marine Power

Of the countless wave generator prototypes designed and tested in the last 20 years, very few have reached commercial scale. Waves are in constant flux and move in multiple directions and heights, devices must also be flexible and durable enough to both harness energy and handle heavy and constant motion, it’s a difficult ask.

The vast, worm-like Pelamis Wave Power energy converter at sea and riding the waves.
The Pelamis Wave Power energy converter was still generating power for the UK grid in 2012 before the company shut due to lack of funds | Image: Pelamis Wave Power

Wave energy is currently being perfected at a reduced scale to remotely power smaller coastal communities, the UK currently generates around 35 percent of Europe’s wave energy in this manner. Tidal energy is significantly more reliable, however. The UK currently generates around 50 percent of all Europe’s tidal energy. It can also be a reliable backup within a renewable power grid that is vulnerable to wind and solar power variability.

Commercial tidal stream generator SeaGen in Strangford Lough
Commercial tidal stream generator SeaGen in Strangford Lough

Later this year, the UK government is tipped to reform an incentive mechanism so that wave and tidal power is calculated separately from offshore wind. This is expected to be a significant indication for investors, but attracting investment will also depend on the promise that technology can scale up.

A device rides a wave at the Orkney wave energy testing site in Billia Croo
The Orkney wave energy testing site in Billia Croo | Image: Aquamarine Power Ltd.

The UK government says 20% of power for electricity could be drawn from the ocean. The promise of industrial and high tech jobs could seal ocean energy’s future, marine power generation has the potential to revive struggling port cities and towns that once relied on fossil fuel industries.

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