A report by Kenneth Gibson, MSP
In what is hoped will be a huge step forward in renewable energy production, Mocean Energy began testing its Blue X wave energy prototype at the European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC) in Orkney last month.
Blue X is 20 metres long and weighs 38 tonnes and was designed and built in Rosyth. It will use 4G to receive instructions and send collected data to the shore.
In early June, the prototype was towed from Kirkwall to the EMEC test site at Scapa Flow and commissioned to begin initial sea trials. Once these initial trials are completed, the Blue X will be moved to Billia Croo, on the west coast of Orkney, to assess its capabilities in more demanding full sea conditions.
Wave energy will be vital in Scotland’s journey to net zero carbon emissions and beyond. To create robust and mature supply chains of clean energy, we must employ a range of renewable energy sources. In Scotland particularly, where we are blessed with more than our fair share of coastline, the ability to harness the power of the sea presents a wealth of opportunities.
As well as being plentiful, wave power has the distinct advantage of being extremely reliable. Compared with wind power, for example, which varies significantly with the weather, wave power is significantly more predictable.
Wave energy converters are large offshore devices which take the kinetic and potential energy from a moving ocean and transfer this into mechanical or electrical energy. The concept has been explored since at least 1890, but has not previously been achievable on a large scale.
Until now, the primary disadvantage of wave energy converters has been the production price of necessary technology. In 2020, it was estimated that production costs per kWh were around 10 times that of offshore wind farms. Despite its huge potential, it has therefore not been considered as a realistic solution to Scotland’s energy needs.
With Blue X, however, we are on the precipice of change. The prototype takes the principles of wave energy capture and applies cutting-edge technology. Novel hull shapes promise to be more efficient and produce more power than traditional raft designs.
If the Blue X trials are successful, it will be a demonstration of credible wave technology, at a time when market support for marine energy is increasing. Wave energy is finally approaching the point where, with appropriate backing, it can compete on the global market and make a significant contribution to Scotland’s energy supplies.
Scottish ministers understand that Scotland is in an ideal situation, with our abundance of natural resources, expertise and progressive policy approach, to make the most of an enormous emerging market and create sustainable, green jobs in the process. The SNP Government has long supported advancements in wave technology, and to date has invested more than £40 million in the internationally-renowned Wave Energy Scotland programme
To achieve net zero by 2045, Scotland requires bold action now. This must inherently come from a range of actors and in a variety of ways. We will rely on cultural and individual changes alongside technological advancements and innovations. Blue X, and the wave converters which follow, will play an important role in reducing our reliance on carbon, while at the same time creating high-quality employment along Scotland’s coasts.
Featured image shows the Mocean Energy Blue X in operation at at EMEC Scapa Flow wave energy test site (credit Colin Keldie)