Plans for Shetland’s first wavefarm are continuing to move forward in a positive way, according to the two firms backing the project.
Representatives from the Swedish energy giant Vattenfall and Edinburgh-based Pelamis Wave Power (PWP), partners in the Aegir project, were in Shetland this week to meet MSP Tavish Scott and staff at the North Atlantic Fisheries College.
The partners previously announced plans to develop a 10 to 20 megawatt wavefarm in the south-west of Shetland, in the waters between Burra and Spiggie. It would consist of between 14 and 26 “sea snakes” – new generation Pelamis P2 machines. The first of these is currently being tested in the waters off Orkney.
PWP business development director Max Carcas said: “This is one of the forefront projects, and a leading contender for the Saltire Prize [for advances in marine energy].”
Currently the scheme is entirely dependent on the installation of an interconnector between Shetland and the mainland, planned as part of the Viking Energy development. Aegir would share this interconnector at the outset, but the partners see this as an opportunity for growth in the future.
“It’s a staged increase in confidence,” said Aegir project manager Andrew Scott. “We hope it’s a stepping stone on to a larger project.”
“The vision would be very much more than 10 megawatts.” agreed Vattenfall research and development programme manager Ulf Tisell. “[But] we have to learn to crawl before we can walk and run.”
For now though, all eyes are upon the developments of the next few years. The partners hope to get government consent for the project by 2013. This would allow the machines to be in place the following year, in time for the arrival of the interconnector.
Mr Carcas said: “The intention is that with this grid interconnector coming to Shetland we can connect as soon as that’s here.”
Before that comes the long but necessary process of tests, surveys and impact assessments. It is hoped that staff at NAFC can assist with deploying a wave buoy in the near future, to add to the satellite data already gathered, showing wave strength within the site.
Engineering surveys of the seabed will also need to begin, to give a clearer picture of where and how the machines can be anchored. The first steps towards assessing environmental factors are also about to be taken.
Mr Carcas said: “We’re in the scoping part of that process, to get a clearer understanding of what needs to be in the EIA [Environmental Impact Assessment].
“There’s a lot going on. Any kind of development takes time. But steps like doing surveys and putting in wave buoys will be tangible evidence of that process.”
The partners are excited at the prospects that Shetland offers for marine energy developers.
“Shetland is one of the most interesting places in terms of its wave resource”, said Vattenfall head of marine energy Urban Hendfridsson. “Scotland is very interesting, and Ireland is also an option. But we think Shetland is first in line.”
Mr Carcas said: “Shetland’s been at the heart of the UK’s energy industry for the past 30 years, but that’s now on a downward trajectory. The huge advantage of renewables is that they’re not going to run out.”
Mr Carcas also highlighted the massive investment that has been poured into the oil and gas industries over past decades; and all for a resource with a very limited lifespan. The potential for marine and other unlimited energies was, he said, hugely significant. For Shetland, and for the rest of Europe, it may have a very bright future.
“We certainly see this as a long term opportunity,” he added.
By Malachy Tallack