Sea snakes between Burra and Spiggie will offer ‘long-term opportunity’, say Aegir partners

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


Add Your Comment
  • Billy Fox, Quarff, ZE2 9EY

    • August 19th, 2010 23:54

    Aegir propose to install up to a 20 megawatt wave farm covering an area of approximately 1.5 to 2 square kilometres. They say currently this will cost well in excess of £64 million.

    The Pelamis devices operate at an energy efficiency of 25 to 40 percent therefore this project would produce on average 5 to 8 megawatts per hour which means an installation cost of at least £12.8 million to £8 million per megawatt. Sometimes up to 20 megawatts could be produced but more crucially often nothing at all.

    To produce at their maximum plated capacity of 20 megawatts a wave height of 4 to 5 metres is required. That is a 13 to 16 foot wave, even off the west side of Shetland there are long periods when we never see anything like this.

    Much as I hate to rain on anybody’s parade, not least our knowledgeable energy policy makers, there is no way that this would make any meaningful contribution to tackling our future energy supply problems.

    I could be cynical and say that the oft stated requirement for an interconnector cable to facilitate the project might just be an additional political lever, to further the Scottish Government’s deluded aim to turn our islands into a massive renewable source for the supply of central Scotland. Perish the thought!

    We are nationally pursuing an unrealistic and dangerous fantasy if we think that variable renewables to this physical scale but pitiful output, can provide a base load supply and solve our future needs, that includes industrial wind farms. These schemes are happening because they are being subsidised at totally unsustainable levels. They also cannot come into being without the necessary levels of conventional thermal backup which for the medium term will most likely come from gas fired power stations.

    So what are the answers? Difficult and complex but initially they must be about ways to cut consumption and reduce our reliance on continually ramping up our electricity use. The other week in Edinburgh I looked at the trees in St Andrew Square adorned with white lights, very pretty but not necessary and certainly no justification for blighting vast areas of our natural environment to provide such frivolous trappings.

    A change in attitude would be a first step. It is no solution doing the wrong thing just to be seen to be doing something. If we convince ourselves that industry scale variables will be our saviour then we are surely exhibiting the same human traits that have brought us to this precipice in the first place.

    I do not have all the answers but neither do the proponents of current energy policy, there is a sense of direction which must be adopted however, unchecked and increasing consumption is not an option. Unless we start looking seriously for realistic solutions very soon we are going to be in a real predicament in 10 to 15 years time.

    On a positive note there are smaller local initiatives and a growing awareness for the need to change, importantly coming from the grass roots. As individuals we all have a part to play, I am as guilty as the next person for not doing enough.

  • Wayne Conroy

    • August 19th, 2010 23:57

    Its about time we embraced alternative energy technology such as this but I have to wonder if this is the best way to go. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against the project myself but, like the recent windfarm proposals, I can see it upsetting many of the people that would have to look out their window and view these “sea snakes” – not to mention the fact many locals use the area for fishing and boating.

    There are alternatives out there. For example StatoilHydro said on Thursday its Hywind floating wind turbine installed off the coast of Karmoy in Norway is a success.

    Their single 2.3-megawatt turbine rests on and attaches to a special floating structure about 10 kilometers off the Norwegian coast – something like this would not be visible from land hence wouldn’t spoil the beauty of the coastline.

    Technology such as this will free wind developers from the current challenge of finding and securing places to put offshore wind farms. If wind farms don’t need to be installed on shoals, it will give governments and developers a lot more options as to where offshore wind farms can be placed.

    Whatever happens I for one hope we learn to take advantage of fantastic technologies such as these and stop relying so much on fossil fuels. Ultimately it can only be beneficial to us and future generations.


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