Lews Castle College UHI, part of the University of the Highlands and Islands, is to lead on a key research project that could help to make the Hebrides one of the most valuable and sought-after marine energy sites in Europe.
The wave power to the west of the Outer Hebrides is said to be one of the best in Europe, and UHI specialists will be working with others to explore the potential, and address government renewable energy priorities, for commercial development.
The Hebridean Marine Energy Futures project – backed by £900k in Scottish Funding Council knowledge exchange grants announced today (22 March) – will develop and exchange skills, models, data and strategies to inform the nation’s marine energy industry. One of the tasks will involve constructing an energy resource assessment wave model of Hebridean waters.
Martin McAdam, chief executive of lead industry partner Aquamarine Power, said the project offered an excellent opportunity for the Western Isles to be come a real centre of expertise in wave energy. “This research will identify clearly the wave energy potential to the west of the Hebrides and also highlight some of the medium term constraints such as electricity grid infrastructure. More than this, however, it will develop skills, knowledge and expertise in the Western Isles which can be retained on the islands and will help generate economic opportunities in the future,” he added.
Project manager Arne Vögler, a specialist in the design and commissioning of integrated energy systems, said: “This is one of the most important research projects of its kind, with far-reaching benefits for a burgeoning industry, and we are proud that we have the resources on our doorstep, plus the skills and experience, to lead on this.
“One of the major priorities of the Scottish Government is to encourage marine developers and innovators to deploy in Scottish waters. Marine energy projects in high-resource areas produce more power at a lower cost per unit of energy output. This means there is a clear economic imperative for project developers to target these areas.”
Headed by the Greenspace low carbon and renewable energy research team at Lews Castle College UHI, the project will be supported by industry leaders Aquamarine Power, Voith Hydro Wavegen, Pelamis, SSE Renewables, Scottish Power, NPower Renewables, EON, BiFab, the Scottish Energy Technology Partnership, the local authority Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, and the community landlord Urras Oighreachd Ghabhsainn (The Galson Estate Trust), among others.
It will involve other UHI partners, including the E nvironmental Research Institute, part of North Highland College UHI in Thurso, and the Scottish Association for Marine Science, near Oban. Experts from the universities of Edinburgh, Strathclyde and Heriot Watt will also be engaged on the work.
David Green, principal of Lews Castle College UHI, said: “This project will take the energy research team at Lews Castle College UHI from capacity-building to a major role in a project of immense value to our industrial and university partners. We have built the team and the skills and the partnerships. Hebridean Marine Energy Futures will make a significant contribution to renewable energy developments of enormous benefit for our communities and is critical to the creation of a vibrant energy industry in the islands.”
Mr Vögler said the project would undertake a range of tasks from seabed surveying and wave data logging over energy resource assessments, near and offshore, to the modelling of the interaction of multiple devices of different makes between each other, and their impact on the electrical grid.
“We will identify the highest energy sites off the Outer Hebrides, and will also look at the environmental impact of wave energy converters with particular focus on the seabird population, marine mammals, benthos and fisheries,” he added.
The project will also assist the Scottish Government’s £10m Saltire Prize scheme for the first developer to generate over 100GWh in a two-year period. The Crown Estate is to make sites available for developers to compete for the prize.