European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC)

Year:2003

Duration:2 years

Cost:£30m

Country: Orkney Islands, UK

What did this project achieve?

Test out new technologies that can turn sea waves into energy

The European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC) is the first and only facility in the world to test wave and tidal technologies for manufacturers.

EMEC uses purpose-built equipment in the sea around the Orkney Islands to try out new energy devices.

The organisation was set up by public sector bodies on the back of recommendations from UK government in 2001. Its £30m funding comes from the EU, Scottish government and Highlands and Islands Enterprise, among others.

The centre tests wave and tidal energy converters in real sea conditions.

A wave converter – e.g. a point absorber buoy – floats on the sea and converts the motion of waves into energy.

A tidal energy converter – such as a tidal stream generator – uses the power from tides coming in or going out to create energy. The tidal movement often turns a wheel or turbine to generate power.

Wave and tide technologies are relatively new but they are expected to make a greater contribution to energy production in the future. EMEC's work is part of a wider plan to ensure the security of energy supply in Europe.

EMEC's clients include energy company Eon, engineering multinational Voith and train manufacturers Alstom.

Difference the testing facility is making

The EMEC project has helped to boost the profile of wave and tidal energy production. Companies from around the world are showing greater interest in the technologies as a commercial proposition.

EMEC estimates that local companies benefit by about £1m from each device tested.

The centre's work means that marine energy now supports around 300 jobs in the Orkneys.

How the testing is done

EMEC has hosted 19 companies trialing 30 wave and tidal technologies on its test areas in seas around the Orkney Islands. It's also worked on over 100 research and development projects.

Engineers chose the Orkneys as the islands see a wide range of tide and wave conditions as well as having sheltered harbours.

The differing conditions mean developers can explore how equipment can be installed and maintained in rough conditions while still producing energy efficiently.

EMEC has 14 full scale test sites, or berths. Project engineers used 30km of subsea cables to connect the berths to onshore substations where they meet the UK national grid.

"​‌

We could see green hydrogen, over time, replace polluting fuels in our cars, vans and ferries.

Neil Kermode

Managing director, on EMEC's hydrogen breakthrough in 2017

Fascinating facts

EMEC claimed a world first in 2017 when it generated hydrogen gas from tidal energy. The breakthrough was paid for by £3m of funding from the Scottish government.

The hydrogen gas was produced after prototype tidal energy converters fed power into an electrolyser at the centre's onshore substation.

It's hoped that the hydrogen from this and similar methods will eventually produce electricity for use as auxiliary power for ferries when they're tied up at night.

People who made it happen

  • Original idea: UK government
  • Backers include: EU, Scottish government, Orkney council and the Carbon Trust.

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