Scottish engineers were prominent in Britain’s Industrial Revolution from the beginning of the 18th century.
Now a Scottish renewable energy company is continuing that grand tradition of innovation by selling the world’s first commercial-scale wave power machine.
Inverness-based Wavegen announced that it has sold an array of 16 turbines to the Ente Vasco de la Energia, the Basque Energy Board in Spain for $1.58 million. On 18 November President of the Basque Country Patxi Lopez inaugurated the Mutriku tidal power facility.
Wavegen Chief executive Matthew Seed said, “We are delighted to have developed the first wave power plant to be sold on a commercial basis. This is very exciting news, not just for our company, but for the whole marine energy sector. This major milestone is a demonstration of just how far the industry has developed in recent years. We believe our success in Spain clearly demonstrates our ability to deliver projects. We have unrivalled expertise and experience, and we will continue to harness those skills to move forward on our other projects.”
Alas, the profits of Scottish technological expertise will be flowing to Berlin, not Edinburgh, as Wavegen, which was founded in 1990, was bought six years ago by German companies Siemens and Voith and is now technically known as Voith Hydro Wavegen.
So, what is Ente Vasco de la Energia getting for its money?
The Wavegen 300 kilowatt wave power plant has 16 turbines, is housed within a breakwater in the Basque port of Mutriku on northern Spain’s Atlantic coast, 30 miles from San Sebastian. The Mutriku facility is the first grid-connected ocean energy device to be commissioned in Spain and continental Europe. Designed with a 25 year operational lifespan, Mutriku will generate electricity for 250 homes.
Leaping on the public relations bandwagon to celebrate Scottish engineering prowess Scotland’s Energy Minister Fergus Ewing said, "Scotland is leading the development of wave and tidal energy, using our skills and expertise to help Scotland - and the world - develop marine power. This welcome announcement by Inverness-based Wavegen highlights the progress being made towards full commercialization of wave and tidal technologies."
No less enthusiastic, the Basque Energy Agency calls the Mutriku facility "a world leader that opens the door to new marine developments and the creation of a new manufacturing sector that can generate wealth and employment," adding that Mutriku is "the only one of its kind in the world, since the other two facilities in Portugal and Scotland are prototypes designed for research purposes rather than to generate power; not the case with Mutriku, which is a pre-commercial plant."
Why is tidal power eliciting rising interest amongst advocates of renewable energy? As tides are generated by the moon’s gravitational forces, unlike wind and wavepower installations, tidal power is an inherently predictable source, allowing maritime nations to publish detailed compilations of tidal projections months in advance of their occurrence. Unlike wind power however, where a fairly standardized system has been developed over decades, there is as yet no definitive design for tidal power electrical power generation, with a number of competing systems currently under investigation. The Mutriku facility uses a technology called Oscillating Water Column (OWC), developed by Wavegen. Cannily outsourcing production, Wavegen had the facility’s turbines manufactured by the Basque company Voith Hydro at its plant in Tolosa in the Basque Guipuzcoa province.
Wavegen’s tidal power generation facility is not the world’s first – that honor belongs to France’s 240 megawatt L’Usine Maremotrice de la Rance (Rance Tidal Power Station), the world’s first large-scale tidal power plant, which became operational in 1966 on the estuary of the Rance River, in Brittany. Operated by Electricite de France, the Rance Tidal Power Station generates its power from 24 turbines.
But the Rance Tidal Power Station is a unique one-off national project, while the Wavegen project, though smaller in size and output, is a facility easily exported to any nation with investment cash and a suitable coastline. Furthermore, the Wavegen facility is emblematic of a ‘think small” mentality in opposition to massive electrical power generation facilities and would be ideal for archipelagic nations such as among Indonesia 13,000 islands or the Philippines 7,107 islands, where running electrical transmission networks to interconnect them to central electrical power generating facilities would prove prohibitively expensive.
Wavegen announced it is in discussion with a number of companies to develop projects in other parts of the world. Unless the moon’s gravitational fields fail, no doubt the telephones in Wavegen’s offices in Inverness will shortly be ringing off the hook.
By. John C.K. Daly of Oilprice.com