Shetland’s first proposed wave farm might eventually rival the Viking Energy windfarm in the scale of power it produces for the nation.
The Swedish company Vattenfall revealed on Thursday that its first tentative step into wave power between Burra and Fitful Head is the start of ambitious expansion which could eventually lead to the company needing its own interconnector cable to export electricity.
The first phase of its Aegir project in partnership with the pioneering Leith-based Pelamis Wave Power could be in place within five years – but only if the windfarm goes ahead an an interconnector is laid between Shetland and the mainland. No windfarm means no wave farm because the technology is perhaps 10-15 years away from becoming a money-spinner.
The first phase, costing well in excess of £60 million, is intended to produce 20 megawatts from the sea off south-west Shetland – more than five times the capacity of the Burradale windfarm. But Vattenfall is not content with having the biggest wave power project in the UK. It hopes to expand it to produce “many times” more power and is already touting the project’s potential as “one of the largest wave power plants on the drawing board in Europe”.
During his visit to Shetland on Thursday, Vattenfall’s head of group function strategies Dr Helmar Rendez said the company did not have a specific target for how much power it would ultimately hope to generate from renewables in the islands.
He said the 20MW wave farm was a “starting point” but expansion depended on how the technology and the site developed as well as getting good access to the electricity grid.
The Pelamis wave turbines will have the benefit of being visually unobtrusive, perhaps nearly five miles offshore, but a more significant difference to the Viking windfarm project is that it will yield little profit for the community because it is wholly owned by outsiders. However, the project team is keen to point out that in place of “handouts”, Shetland would be closely involved in a new industry with worldwide export potential.
The first phase of the Aegir project (named after the Norse god of the seas) involves an array of up to 26 of the new Pelamis P2 floating generators, known as sea snakes. The first model is being built in Leith for testing off Orkney next year. The sea snakes are each 180 metres long, consisting of four hinged steel cylinders which generate power by using hydraulic rams to resist the wave action, absorbing their energy.
Power from the 750 kilowatt machines would come ashore via a cable along the seabed. The landfall point has yet to be decided although several beaches have been identified as contenders. It will depend where within the zone the turbines are placed.
Development project manager Clare Lavelle said they worked best in water depths of over 70 metres, which means they will be at least two kilometres (1.2 miles) offshore and probably closer to the western edge of the zone, at about eight kilometres (five miles) off.
For full story, see this week’s Shetland Times.