A worker inspects Aquamarine Power's Oyster 800 wave power device (CREDIT: Aquamarine Power)

World's largest wave energy farm given go-ahead

Plans for the world's largest commercial wave energy farm have been given the go-ahead.

The Scottish Government has approved proposals which could see up to 50 wave energy devices installed in the waters off the north-west coast of Lewis, in the Outer Hebrides.

Developers Aquamarine Power said when fully completed it could produce as much as 40MW of electricity – enough to power almost 30,000 homes – and the company said the project was the largest of its kind in the world to have full consent.

CEO Martin McAdam said the Scottish Government's approval for the development was a "significant milestone" for the firm.

Scottish energy minister Fergus Ewing announced Aquamarine Power had been granted a licence to "develop the largest commercial wave array in the world" at the All Energy Conference in Aberdeen today.

"This is another significant milestone for Scotland's wave sector," Mr Ewing said. "With 10 per cent of Europe's wave power potential and 25 per cent of its offshore wind and tidal power potential, the opportunities for Scotland are enormous.”

Mr Ewing also used the conference to announce Scotland will be the first part of the UK to have a dedicated fund to help with the development of the wave energy sector.

The £18m Marine Renewables Commercialisation Fund (MRCF), which was launched last year, is to be used to provide support for the wave energy industry with projects able to apply for cash from next month and funding expected to be awarded this summer.

Aquamarine Power is testing its Oyster wave power device at the European Marine Energy Centre in Orkney.

The company hopes some of the devices could be installed in the water along the coast of Lag na Greine, near Fivepenny Borve in Lewis, by late 2017 or early 2018, with more installed over the next decade.

The project depends on further development of the Oyster devices, as well as the necessary infrastructure being in place to connect the scheme to the national grid.

McAdam says: "The goal of our industry is to become commercial, and to do this we need two things: reliable technologies and a route to market.

"Our engineers are currently working hard on getting the technology right and we now have a site where we can install our first small farm, with a larger-scale commercial build out in the years ahead."

He adds: "We believe wave energy presents an important opportunity for the Isle of Lewis. Our development could provide significant economic benefit to the local community.

"In Orkney, for example, we have spent over £5m in the local economy during the installation of the first two Oyster devices and have worked with over 40 local companies as part of our commitment to sourcing much of the services and expertise we require locally."

Western Isles Council has already approved planning for the onshore hydro-electric power plant that will be connected to the Oyster wave energy farm.

Council leader Angus Campbell says: "This is excellent news for the Outer Hebrides and demonstrates the growing appetite of major energy companies to locate in Europe's area of best marine resource, here in the islands.

"Our Atlantic coast represents one of the best wave energy resources in Europe and there is no doubt that the area can become a global player as nascent wave energy technology comes to market, benefiting carbon reduction targets and regenerating the local economy."

He adds: "It is vital that developing technology like that of Aquamarine Power is retained in Scotland but, for that, we need to extend our electricity grid into the areas of best resource.

"Aquamarine Power's announcement adds further weight to the call for our transmission owner, SSE, to move quickly on construction of this link for which there is so much consented demand."

News that the wave farm has been granted consent has been welcomed by both the renewables industry and environmental campaigners.

Maria McCaffery, chief executive of RenewableUK, says: "This is a big step forward for the marine energy sector in the UK, and especially in the Scottish Islands, which has such a first-rate marine energy resource.

"These are the type of developments that we hope to see more of in the coming months and years to herald the opportunity that marine energy represents."

Niall Stuart, chief executive of Scottish Renewables, says: "This is a fantastic milestone for the Scottish renewables industry and this project will make a significant contribution to our energy mix once it begins generating.

"It's further proof that we have become home to a world-leading marine energy industry that is delivering jobs and investment to communities across Scotland."

But he too stressed the importance of grid connection, says: "We can't forget that this is the kind of prize that could be lost unless costs for projects to connect to the grid on the islands are set at a competitive level."

But Lang Banks, director of environmental charity WWF Scotland, also says the connection issue must be resolved.

"However, if Scotland is to rule the waves when it comes to marine renewables, then it's vital we quickly resolve the issues of grid connection and transmission costs to the Scottish islands,” he says.

"There is little point in generating huge amounts of clean electricity on Scotland's islands if it cannot also be got to the mainland."

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