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Can we harness the power of waves?

Orbital Marine Power is harnessing Scotland's ocean currents for sustainable power.

Boat in ocean

Orbital Marine Power is trying to harness wave energy

Originally published on Climate and Capital Media and reprinted with permission.

Orbital Marine Power is harnessing Scotland’s ocean currents for sustainable power.

"Turning the tide on climate change." That’s the motto of Scottish tidal energy company Orbital Marine Power (formerly Scotrenewables Tidal Power).

Orbital CEO Andrew Scott is not exaggerating when he says the world’s most powerful turbine is "like nothing the world has ever seen before."

At just over 242 feet long — about the size of a Boeing 747 — the 680-ton superstructure has two ginormous blades that slowly churn and generate power. This floating power plant, the "O2," is estimated to generate enough energy from the fast-flowing sea currents off Scotland’s isle of Orkney to provide all the power needs of 2,000 households. 

Scottish entrepreneurs seem to be at the forefront of a green industrial revolution. They are providing cutting-edge ocean power technology to drive the renewable energy needs of a new Climate Age. 

Founded in 2002, Orbital is harnessing the power of the ocean to generate clean and renewable energy for Scotland and beyond. Although not in widespread use yet, tidal power has a major asset that wind and solar cannot match. It’s as predictable as a clock, providing a reliable and steady source of power forever. The total global capacity of tidal power is estimated at 120 gigawatts — roughly enough energy to power 80 million homes. And this is just the beginning. 

The floating power plant can generate enough energy from the fast-flowing sea currents to provide all the power needs of 2,000 households.

The SR2000, Orbital’s prototype floating tidal turbine, was an industry breakthrough. Instead of being constructed into a seabed, the turbine floated underwater like a giant robotic leviathan.

"We have been pioneering a technical solution for tidal stream energy that floats rather than is constructed on the seabed," Scott said. "Floating turbines can capture energy from the water just below the surface, which is where it flows fastest. When placed in the right location, they have the capacity to generate significantly more energy than those fixed at the seabed." 

The prototype soon will be replaced by the two-megawatt O2. The O2 is anchored at the European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC) in Orkney, home to some of the strongest tidal currents in the world. Once connected to the local electricity grid, it will be one of the most powerful tidal turbines in use in the world today. 

Investment in the sector has not always been steady. "We have seen investment interest ebb and flow," Scott said. "A bit like the tide themselves."

We have seen investment interest ebb and flow. A bit like the tide themselves.

The company has relied on grants from the Scottish government and crowdsourcing, raising $9.71 million in 2019. Around 2,300 individual investors invested an average of $4,160 (the highest support came from investors in Scotland, who on average invested $6,245 each). They were also awarded $4.72 million that year from the Scottish government’s $13.9 million Saltire Tidal Energy Challenge Fund.

With the pandemic easing, Scott hopes to receive even greater investor support. "We need to support recovery from the pandemic and at the same time magnify efforts to decarbonize," Scott said. "And help drive investors and funds to look at low carbon solutions and clean energy. That’s the type of opportunity tidal stream energy can present. It can avoid stranded assets."  

And the numbers definitely reflect this. The global market for wave and tidal energy, estimated at $542.8 million in 2020, is projected to grow to $5.1 billion by 2027 — that’s a whopping CAGR of 37.7 percent. (To put this into context, the CAGR for solar energy is estimated to be 20 percent, while the CAGR for fossil fuels is 7.9 percent.) 

As it is now, Scott is ready to add additional renewable power to Scotland’s power grid. The country is on track to be powered 100 percent by renewable energy, an unprecedented achievement even by European standards. In 2010, renewables powered only a quarter of the nation’s grid. Because of the numbers, Orbital has ambitious plans for expansion.

"Our vision isn’t limited to that single power generation model," Scott explained. "The low carbon energy landscape is a highly dynamic space and we can see areas of business opportunity that sit in complementary spaces such as battery storage and green hydrogen production."

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