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EMEC to take on new marine renewable development sites in Scotland

For the first time, local organisations will be able to manage and sub-let parts of the seabed to wave and tidal energy developers.

The European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC), in collaboration with local partners, has been awarded rights to areas of seabed in Harris, Islay and Orkney by The Crown Estate. 

The Crown Estate has awarded EMEC the rights to manage two seabed zones: one for the development of tidal stream, and the other for wave. EMEC already operates two wave test sites and two tidal test sites in Orkney, and will now begin consultations on how best to develop these new marine energy development zones. 

Awarding rights to these zones will enable EMEC to manage the seabed in conjunction with its local partners and sub-let areas of seabed for developers to progress projects. EMEC has also been awarded seabed rights to progress a tidal stream project in the Stronsay Firth in Orkney. 

The Crown Estate's latest wave and tidal leasing round saw developer organisations take on a total of six zones and five sites in UK waters to catalyse technology development in the emerging wave and tidal sectors.

To start the journey towards development in these areas, EMEC has signed Memoranda of Understanding with the West Harris Trust alongside Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, and the Islay Energy Trust. The respective organisations will collaborate to manage the Harris Wave Demonstration Zone and Islay Tidal Demonstration Zone in consortia acting as ‘Third Party Managers’ for their individual sites. 

Each consortium will now progress with a comprehensive consultation process to ensure that the needs of the industry, key stakeholders and the local communities are fully taken into account in the future development of the sites. Consortia will then submit applications to Marine Scotland to secure permission for energy devices to be installed. 

The Islay and Harris development sites will complement EMEC’s existing test sites, providing developers of wave and tidal energy devices additional options for demonstrating their technologies in real sea conditions. The sites will provide developers with a different set of marine characteristics, and may be used for single device testing and/or small array testing, with an overall site limit of up to 100MW. 

The new Orkney demonstration site in the Stronsay Firth, south east of EMEC’s existing tidal test site, will enable additional testing facilities for tidal energy devices, components, subsystems, arrays and array enabling technology. 

Neil Kermode, EMEC’s managing director said: “with more than 10 years of experience in wave and tidal testing at our existing sites in Orkney, we have seen 15 different companies learn from real sea experience, and feed that learning back into their next generation technologies. That, in turn, has created valuable momentum for the industry, but has also created a cluster of expertise and economic benefit in Orkney.

According to Kermode, the agreements will enable the consortia to explore and assess the potential of the zones for marine energy production over a 3-year period and to seek potential developers for the sites. If these early studies prove successful the consortia will aim to manage the area for up to 45 years, entering into long-term leases with suitable developers.

Swift feedback

Industry observers believe local involvement in the development of regional assets is critically important for island communities. “We are very keen to be at the forefront of marine renewables development and the economic opportunities it offers,” said Philip Maxwell, chairman of Islay Energy Trust. “The consortium approach allows us to play a key role in developing the area sympathetically, taking account of other local interests through comprehensive local consultation.”

Councillor Angus Campbell, leader of Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, also welcomed the news, saying: “The production of electricity from wave energy has been an aspiration of Comhairle nan Eilean Siar for many years now. While intransigence over the provision of an essential grid upgrade to the Outer Hebrides has meant that wave energy on the commercial scale will not be possible in the short term, we recognise the need for a demonstration facility to accelerate wave energy technology and, particularly device survivability in the aggressive maritime climate West of Hebrides.”

Campbell is particularly pleased at the level of community involvement achieved through the participation of West Harris Trust in this project. As joint ‘demonstration zone managers, the partners will strive to create the conditions which enable the testing and developing of wave energy converters. This way, when the grid upgrade finally arrives, the participants will be “well placed to contribute to Scottish, UK and European carbon reduction targets through the deployment of robust and efficient wave energy converters in the seas around these islands." 

Speaking on behalf of the West Harris Trust, Roddy MacLennan, director of its renewables subsidiary added: “This is a welcome opportunity for the community to be engaged in marine-based renewables development. We look forward to seeing the consortium establish a local office and surveying the area in the short-term, which will hopefully then lead to long-term development of the zone and major benefits for the local community and economy."

Scottish Renewables also joined the chorus of welcome chants. For the agency, this announcement means that local organisations will be able to manage and sub-let parts of the seabed to wave and tidal developers for the very first time. “This announcement reinforces, yet again, the massive wave and tidal energy potential Scotland has,” said Lindsay Leask, senior policy at Scottish Renewables. “With the right level of support, Scotland can solidify its position as a world-leader in marine energy development and take advantage of the vast economic benefits that could accompany this.”

Moreover, Leask notes, it is great to see local communities taking their energy future into their own hands and playing a role in the development of wave and tidal projects. “We have already seen the benefits local partnerships can bring to communities interested in onshore renewables, so it is encouraging to see the beginnings of this in the wave and tidal sector,” she added.

Lastly, Dr Stephanie Merry, REA Head of Marine Renewable, called the development a “huge boost for efforts to use our seas to deliver low-carbon, home-grown energy to reduce damage to the climate and improve our energy security.”

REA members EMEC and Siemens Marine Current Turbines are among those receiving leasing agreements from the Crown Estate. The wave and tidal stream leasing agreements have been granted for projects off the coasts of Scotland, Wales and the South West, as well as Strangford Lough in Northern Ireland.  The tidal range leasing later this summer could unlock tidal barrage and lagoon projects that have already been proposed in the Wash and the Irish Sea.

EMEC will be consulting with the wave and tidal energy market and local stakeholders on how best all three of these sites can be developed and the role that EMEC can take in fosteringcontinued development of a global ocean energy industry in Scotland.

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Energy infrastructure  •  Other marine energy and hydropower  •  Policy, investment and markets  •  Wave and tidal energy