Blog: EMEC 2019 in review

EMEC is best known as the world’s leading facility for testing and validating wave and tidal energy devices in the sea. As our operations have developed through the years, we’ve gained unprecedented experience in demonstrating ocean energy technologies, and providing technical and business support to our clients.

We’ve found our experience is transferrable to other low-carbon sectors so we’re also pioneering the development of a green hydrogen economy in Orkney, having set up a hydrogen production plant onshore, next to our Fall of Warness tidal energy substation. This year we’ve been working on a range of hydrogen focused projects (from integration with tidal energy, hydrogen powered ferries and planes, to hydrogen powered gin…).

This year has also seen us delve more deeply into working on projects to support the development of floating offshore wind, and wider clean energy systems, including the pioneering ReFLEX Orkney project looking to revolutionise Orkney’s energy system.

The year kicked off with the installation of Magallanes Renovables’ second generation 2 MW tidal platform at our Fall of Warness tidal test site in February (funded the Horizon2020 Ocean_2G project). Following installation, the ATIR was connected to the grid and generated its first power in March.

More recently EMEC have deployed acoustic doppler current profilers around the platform in order to conduct a power performance assessment for Magallanes. The EMEC team have also performed drifting hydrophone surveys to characterise the noise signature of the turbine to inform environmental assessments and support Magallanes as they continue to refine and develop the ATIR.

We look forward to working with Magallanes in 2020, as they continue testing and modifying their platform, with support from Interreg North-West Europe funded Ocean Demo.

Orbital Marine Power have been building on the hugely successful SR2000 turbine which generated over 3 GWh in its final year of testing at EMEC. Funded by the Horizon2020 FloTEC project, Orbital’s optimised 2 MW turbine, the Orbital O2, is now in production in Dundee, a huge plaudit for the Scottish supply chain.

Orbital raised an impressive £7 million through crowdfunding early in 2019, and in September the Scottish Government awarded Orbital £3.4 million from the Saltire Tidal Energy Challenge Fund to help deliver this transformational project. We look forward to welcoming Orbital and their new device to EMEC later in 2020.

Having demonstrated previous iterations of their technologies at EMEC sites, both Magallanes and Orbital have indicated the need for multiple prototype tests prior to commercialisation. To support the long-term ambitions and demonstration plans of EMEC’s tidal energy clients, Crown Estate Scotland granted an extension to EMEC’s lease for the Fall of Warness, now running until 2040.

Beyond the EMEC tidal test sites in Orkney, EMEC will be heading to the USA in 2020 having signed an agreement to provide an independent performance assessment of Verdant Power’s 5th Generation tidal turbine system to be deployed in New York City’s East River.

EMEC are also delighted to be part of the TIGER (Tidal Stream Industry Energiser Project) project. This ambitious €46.8m project, supported by the Interreg France (Channel) England Programme, aims to drive the growth of tidal energy by installing up to 8 MW of new tidal capacity at sites in and around the Channel region. EMEC will support communications and stakeholder engagement, as well as site development, resource assessments and performance assessment of technologies installed.

2019 started on a high with the announcement that Wave Energy Scotland (WES) had awarded £7.7 million to two Scottish wave energy developers to build half-scale devices to be tested at EMEC’s Billia Croo wave test site. We look forward to welcoming AWS Ocean Energy and Mocean to Orkney next year, ensuring that Scotland remains at the forefront of the wave energy sector.

EMEC are also involved in a WES funded project with Quoceant, sharing lessons learnt from hands on experience gained from operating test sites to help develop Quoceant’s mechanical and electrical ‘Q-Connect’ system.

In July, we applied for site-wide Section 36 consent for our Billia Croo wave test site to further streamline the consenting process for our clients, reducing the time and cost associated with offshore demonstration.

We also welcomed Exeter and Plymouth Universities back on site to continue their environmental monitoring campaigns as part of the SEA Wave project. The project investigating the impact of wave energy converters (WECs) on the seabed habitat and associated ecosystem.

Whitford are moving into their sixth year of testing high-performance coatings products at EMEC, assessing their suitability for ocean energy applications. And following the launch of the RobFMS project we are preparing to test InnoTecUK’s automated robotic system for monitoring, identifying and cleaning biofouling from subsea structures at our sites in Spring 2020.

Unfortunately, following two years of continuous operation at Billia Croo, Wello Oy’s Penguin WEC began taking on water in March and sank to the seabed. The device remains on the seabed and plans are being put in place to retrieve it next year. Whilst an unfortunate setback for Wello, the very nature of EMEC being a test site is for lessons like this to be learnt in a controlled real-sea environment. Learning from this incident has been fed into Wello’s second iteration of the Penguin WEC, which we welcomed to Orkney in July. The device is currently berthed at Hatston Pier in Kirkwall, however with the early closure of the EU-funded CEFOW project, Wello are considering their options regarding deployment locations. We are keen to see the new Penguin deployed in Orkney if possible however the ultimate decision may be determined by private stakeholder involvement and financial support packages available to the company.

Venturing into new territory for EMEC, in March, we launched the €31 million AFLOWT project to accelerate the uptake of floating offshore wind. The project builds on four years of collaboration between EMEC and the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) to develop the AMETS offshore test site in Ireland, and aims to demonstrate the survivability and cost-competitiveness of SAIPEM’s Hexafloat floating offshore wind platform. EMEC is leading the project and using our offshore renewable expertise, we will support the development of the AMETS site, H&S systems and operating procedures. The project has also seen our programme manager, Nic Wallet, relocate to Ireland.

EMEC have led the €11m Interreg NWE project, FORESEA, since it was launched in 2016. Now nearing completion, the project has been hailed an overwhelming success and this year was nominated for the EU Sustainable Energy Week Citizens’ Awards 2019. Having enabled 29 technologies to deploy across four European test centres (EMEC, DMEC, SEM-REV and SmartBay) FORESEA has enabled more ocean energy technologies to be tested offshore than any other project.

Published in June 2019, FORESEA Success Stories summarises the main achievements in the project, including demonstration of Orbital, Corpower, Nautricity, Tocardo and Microsoft at EMEC. This publication will be updated in early 2020 to include additional FORESEA supported projects including the Blackfish tidal energy tripod decommissioning and forensic analysis project, and the BioFREE biofouling project.

Following the footsteps of FORESEA, we were delighted to launch OceanDEMO in January. Through OceanDEMO, Interreg NWE are investing a further €13m of funding to offshore renewable developers to test in real sea conditions, aiming to accelerate ocean energy’s transition from single prototype to multi-device farms by providing free access to key European test centres. We launched the first call in May, and announced successful applicants at the end of September. The second call closes 31 January 2020 so get in touch if you’re interested in applying.

As part of EMEC’s continued support for real-sea testing, EMEC are involved in various other EU funded projects aimed at supporting technology developers in accessing and testing at Europe’s range of marine energy centres. These include:

In what has been another interesting year for UK politics, the marine energy sector has been demonstrating how wave and tidal energy can be an important contributor to the Government’s Industrial Strategy, creating jobs in coastal communities and developing world-leading technology innovations. However, there’s still something missing in terms of capitalising on these innovations – the UK has always been a pioneering nation when it comes to invention, but not necessary so good at turning the inventions into commercial, and exportable products.

Working with the UK’s Marine Energy Council, EMEC has joined their efforts to lobby for an Innovation Power Purchase Agreement (IPPA) and Innovation Contract for Difference (ICfD), which would encourage corporations to buy their electricity from innovative new renewable energy sources at a higher premium in return for tax breaks. The higher premium then acts as an incentive for investors, helping bridge the gap between a prototype technology and a commercial production model (when costs can be reduced through building multiples of the technology).

Support for the need for a revenue incentive mechanism has been building momentum throughout the year, with 91 MPs uniting urging the UK Energy Minister to support marine energy. Evidence is also building from a range of sources across Europe and internationally, showing unprecedented generation from wave and tidal projects, all forming the same conclusions around the need for revenue support to create a global market for these new technologies.

A petition has also been launched through Change.org to encourage the UK government to act and provide investment in tidal stream energy. Please, if you have not already done so, sign this. Over 1,100 have signed so far, can we reach 2,000 by New Year?

Thanks to the incredible impacts created by Greta Thunberg and Sir David Attenborough countries all around the world have been declaring climate emergencies, we have new net-zero targets in the UK. We look forward to working with the incoming UK government, and hope they have some time to read ‘A sea change to net zero’ in New Statesman this month (p30-31) which explains the importance of marine energy to the future UK economy.

This year saw EMEC strengthen its presence in the hydrogen industry with the launch of a new sub-brand: EMEC Hydrogen.

EMEC Hydrogen is the arm of EMEC focussed on green hydrogen innovation and demonstration, supporting the development of the local hydrogen economy and working alongside global stakeholders to decarbonise power, heat and transport. Since its launch at the start of the year, the EMEC Hydrogen sub-brand has been showcased at home and abroad across key industry conferences such as Hannover Messe in Germany and the All-Energy conference in Glasgow. There was a notable buzz at All-Energy in May around the hydrogen show floor and interest in EMEC’s hydrogen activities.

A highlight this year has been the expansion of hydrogen projects across diverse sectors in Orkney keeping us at the cutting edge of innovation. There are now nine projects with a total value over £65 million. This growth was acknowledged when our Hydrogen Manager, Jon Clipsham, was shortlisted for the Sustainable Development Award at the Scottish Renewables Green Energy Awards.

We were very excited to announce the HyFlyer project which will support the decarbonisation of lifeline transport services for island communities using hydrogen. EMEC have recently awarded a contract for delivery of a mobile hydrogen refuelling vehicle to support the zero-emission test flights in Cranfield and Orkney next year. And following Lord Duncan’s announcement of the HySprits project during a visit to the Orkney Distillery, we’ve completed a feasibility study into the decarbonisation of distillery processes using hydrogen.

Progress has been made in existing projects: ITEG with Orbital awarding the contract for fabrication of the anchors of the Orbital O2 device; and a hydrogen dual fuel system is being retrofitted on the Shapinsay ferry for the HyDIME project with installation due to be completed early next year.

Our hydrogen production plant in Eday has been undergoing an upgrade this year, and we’re busily preparing the site for the return of the equipment supplied by ITM Power in a few months’ time.

Another highlight in the hydrogen space took place in October, with EMEC hosting the inaugural Transatlantic Power to Gas (TAP2G) workshop during the Aberdeen Hydrogen Festival. With over 50 delegates in attendance from eight countries across Europe and North America, the initiative brought together industry experts to highlight areas of opportunity for transatlantic collaboration in the power to gas industry and recognise the critical role power to gas will play in the future energy system. We are now seeing major interest from the USA in this sector as a direct result from TAP2G.

We’ve two major energy systems related projects currently on the go at EMEC.

Since 2018, Microsoft have been testing their subsea data centre designed by Microsoft at our Billia Croo test site. The data centre is powered by Orkney’s renewable electricity and cooled by the ocean. We’re delighted to see the versatility of the infrastructure originally set up for wave energy demonstration being used to support the decarbonisation of wider energy systems.

And in April this year, EMEC launched the ReFLEX Orkney project alongside a strong consortium of local companies to assess the feasibility of interconnecting Orkney’s electricity, heat and transport networks using advanced software to balance demand and supply. The project intends to install new domestic and commercial batteries, electric vehicles and charging points in Orkney, alongside an innovative FlexiGRID system designed by Solo Energy. The project received national coverage following the announcement and has continued to receive significant interest throughout the year as people recognise the potential in this game-changing initiative.

Funded by UKRI through the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, ReFLEX Orkney faces its first stage gate review in early 2020. Provided we pass the stage gate, the project will progress from feasibility into demonstration mode, and will launch the roll out stage of the project.

We hosted our 6th International WaTERS (Wave and Tidal Energy Research Sites) Network this year. With the support of the IEA-OES, this year’s event returned to Orkney for the first time since its inaugural event in 2013. It was attended by representatives from 18 test facilities from 13 countries around the world, for three days of site visits and intensive discussions sharing knowledge and driving collaboration.

EMEC take great pride in working with other countries to help develop the market for marine renewables across the globe. This year we’ve been working closely with test centres and companies around the world, including:

Throughout 2019 we visited Ireland, France, Belgium, The Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Italy, Spain, Portugal, the USA, and Canada to develop relationships with international partners. We’ve also welcomed various groups of international visitors to Orkney, including delegations from across Scotland, the UK, and the Arctic region, Norway, Germany, Croatia, Malta, Japan, China, Indonesia, Australia, Canada, and the USA.

This year we’ve had an immense amount of media attention across the globe, including a brief encounter with the red carpet.

Early in the year the World Economic Forum shared a video on Instagram showcasing the renewables revolution taking place here in Orkney, and this video was shared by Oscar winner and environmentalist, Leonardo DiCaprio, quickly racking up over one million views.

Then in May, Leonardo DiCaprio’s Ice on Fire documentary was premiered at the Cannes Film Festival, featuring EMEC, Orbital Marine Power, and Wello Oy. The documentary has been aired in the USA and many other countries around the world, however the UK broadcast date has yet to be announced. EMEC did however host the UK premiere of the documentary during the Orkney International Science Festival in September at the Pickaquoy Centre in Kirkwall, followed by the West Side Cinema in Stromness. Unfortunately, Leo couldn’t make it.

Another major broadcast this year took place on the radio. BBC Radio 4’s Costing the Earth aired a 30-minute programme – Carbon Free Islands – on renewable energy in Orkney, particularly focused on the ReFLEX Orkney project. The BBC estimate listening figures around 800,000 to one million people per programme, and given the feedback we’ve had following the broadcast, we highly recommend listening to it if you missed it the first-time round.

EMEC was also featured on the BBC’s Protecting our Planet which got a lot of airtime in August, and you may have spotted us online on BBC Reel – the Island with the Electric Sea, and on BBC Future and the Financial Times regarding our hydrogen projects.

Further afield, EMEC featured on EuroNews’ Harnessing the Power of our Oceans, as well as on ARTE (French broadcaster), Tagesschau (German broadcaster), and even as far away as Indonesia on their news channel, Kompas TV.

In the press, Orbital Marine featured on the front page of ReVOLVE Magazine leading to an abridged extract from ‘Energy at the End of the World: An Orkney Islands Saga’ by Laura Watts featuring EMEC and ocean energy in Orkney. European Energy Innovation (p 48-51) and the Society for Underwater Technology (p 56-59, 71) printed features on EMEC, The Herald wrote about EMEC’s hydrogen activities, and International Water Power & Dam Construction featured editorial on EMEC’s internship programme (sorry, no online link for that one). And the German equivalent of the Financial Times – Handelsblatt – printed a feature in their Climate Pioneer Series featuring renewable energy developments in Orkney.

As well as featuring heavily in Laura Watts new book, we also authored two chapters of the Institution of Engineering and Technology’s book on Renewable Energy from the Oceans. Both are available online if you’re looking for a last minute Christmas gift.

We welcomed media visits from NBC News, CNN International, The Washington Post, BBC Earth, National Geographic, Mega Marine Machines (US/Canadian documentary crew), and Coming Clean (a Slovenian book project on climate change).

And if you’re still reeling for more, we featured in the following podcasts:

In 2019 we have continued to grow as we’ve taken on more projects. We have welcomed 13 new members of staff to the EMEC team, and there has been some juggling internally! See our who’s who for details on the full EMEC team.

Our project team has expanded, as we welcomed back Danielle Moodie as Project Manager, who had previously worked at EMEC as Procurement Officer. Lisa Fitzpatrick joined us from Visit Scotland, as a Project Manager for the OceanDEMO project, and Pierre-Olivier Azemar accepted the role of Energy Systems Development Officer, working on both the ITEG and ReFLEX projects. Sarah Purdue and Saul Young took on Project Officer roles to support the Project Management Office.

Donald Leaver took on the role of Environment and Consents Officer following graduation from ICIT. Richard Kilpatrick joined us from Edinburgh as our Electrical Engineer, moving home to Orkney with his family. And Jack Hughes took on the role of Electrolyser Research Engineer through a Knowledge Transfer Partnership with Manchester Metropolitan University.

We also had the pleasure of hosting two student interns in the operations team over the summer. Following the internship, Cristina Lozano accepted the full-time position of Data Technician at EMEC, while Isaque de Paula returned to Glasgow to study a masters.

Kim Hamilton and Sarah Jessen took on the role of Hydrogen Development Officer. Following an internship in the commercial team, Maud Ezel accepted the role as Commercial Project Assistant. And our Commercial Development Officer, Catrin Sutherland, was shortlisted for the Achiever Award at the Scottish Renewables Young Professionals Green Energy Awards 2019.

Peter Donald joined the support team as our Administration Officer in May. Corrine Sinclair joined us as our Contracts Manager, returning home to Stromness from Glasgow. Read Corrine’s blog on her first three months at EMEC here. Ray Banks moved from the Project Management Office to the support team, taking on the role of IT Systems Officer to help enhance and maintain EMEC’s IT systems.

“Whilst exhilarating, it is hard not to feel tired after reading through what we have been involved in during the year. There is a lot going on, so much so that it is important not to lose sight of our objectives.

“EMEC was created to help bring about a new marine industry and to provide that help as effectively, safely and cost-effectively as possible. In the last 15 years we have done just that with the impressive tally of 31 devices having been installed from 21 developers from 11 countries. They have all spent money in Orkney and on the back of that work they have not only learned valuable lessons, but also the economies of Orkney, Scotland, and the UK have benefited from their efforts.

“Since EMEC’s set up the climate imperative has changed. Renewables have moved from being a bit ‘weird’ to the core of the UK’s electricity system. The public pressure for decarbonisation is increasing daily and is now joining forces with governmental and business calls that we must change how we power our lives; and change now.

“EMEC therefore finds itself in a position where its track record of helping to deliver complex and challenging energy projects over many years is now in demand in growing and adjacent energy areas. The clamour to stop polluting the planet is becoming the new normal and we now seem to be reaching the tipping point where government, business and public opinion is aligned on the need to change. EMEC is ready to help that change.

“Churchill once said: “Give us the tools, and we will finish the job.” Well EMEC’s toolbox is open and we are ready; just say where and when.

“Finally, I want to offer my heartfelt thanks, not just to the staff of EMEC, but to everybody who has helped us in the year. We could not have achieved what is listed here without the divers, skippers, taxi drivers, pilots, air traffic controllers, posties, cleaners, builders, bankers, bakers, hoteliers, harbourmasters, civil servants, etc, etc, etc all doing their bit to keep this show on the road. We depend on your support and we are eternally grateful for all you do for us. Thank you all.”