Recently Edinburgh-based company Aquamarine Power unveiled plans to install a new type of wave power system in place in the seabed off the Orkney Islands coast. Dubbed the Oyster, the system utilizes an on-shore base that is much easier to maintain than standard wave power designs, and the system is capable of operating at shallow depths, making it more consistent than systems that operate far out at sea. Each unit is capable of producing 300-600kw of electricity, so a commercial farm of ten units could provide clean energy for a town of 3,000 homes!
Turns out waves are good for more than just surfing and scenery. Companies across the globe are turning to the briny deep to develop wave power plants, systems that generate electricity from the motion of the ocean. Locations like California, Oregon, Sweden and Scotland have already been targeted as wave power hotspots, and soon the Orkney Islands will be joining the group.
Aquamarine Power’s “Oyster” device differs a bit from existing wave power systems. The Oyster uses hydraulics to transfer high-pressure water to shore, where it’s then converted to electricity, essentially using wave power to fuel an onshore hydroelectric plant. Once activated by a wave’s motion, an underwater oscillator equipped with pistons pumps water through a pipeline to shore. Onshore generators then convert the water into electricity.
This wave-hydroelectric hybrid offers a couple of advantages: For one, the system’s most complex equipment is onshore, meaning that maintenance workers don’t need to worry about repairing underwater gearboxes or generators that could be damaged by volatile ocean waters. Also, the system is placed at a relatively shallow depth (about 12 to 16 meters deep), where seas are more consistent than further offshore, making power delivery itself relatively consistent. Developers also made sure the system runs silently and relies on only water for hydraulics (rather than oilor other toxic substances) in order to minimize disturbances to ocean life.
The Oyster is still in very early stages of development–a trial demonstration is set to begin in the fall of this year. But developers say that they hope to eventually introduce the system to the coasts of Spain, Portugal, Ireland, UK, US, South Africa, Australia and Chile. Let’s hope the tech lives up to its expected reputation: Calculations by the Carbon Trust suggest that each Oyster could save about 500 tons of carbon dioxide each year.
+ Aquamarine Power