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Powering The Future

8 Crazy Ocean Power Plants That Make Energy From The Sea

The tide is turning for marine power plants, especially in Scotland, which is serving as a test-bed for all sorts of underwater turbines and other crazy solutions to generate power from the waves and tides.

  • <p>Aquamarine Power’s <a href="http://www.aquamarinepower.com/technology/how-oyster-wave-power-works/" target="_blank">Oyster concept</a> is "a wave-powered pump which pushes high-pressure water to drive an onshore hydro-electric turbine."</p>
  • <p>Atlantis Resource Corporation’s <a href="http://www.atlantisresourcescorporation.com/development-process.html" target="_blank">AR1000</a> is a tidal turbine fixed to the seabed. The consortium behind the concept has a goal of supplying electricity to 40,000 Scottish homes by 2020.</p>
  • <p><a href="http://www.flumill.co.uk/" target="_blank">Flumill</a>'s double helical corkscrew device "draws power from the tidal stream as the water moves up/through the spiral turning the turbines."</p>
  • <p>Several companies are piloting <a href="http://www.pelamiswave.com/pelamis-technology" target="_blank">Pelamis</a>'s wave technology. As waves pass down its five sections, the machine converts the movement into electricity "via hydraulic power take-off systems housed inside each joint."</p>
  • <p>Scotrenewables’ floating tidal device generates power from two turbines fixed underneath its bow. The Orkney-based <a href="http://www.scotrenewables.com/index.php" target="_blank">company</a> points to its "ease of installation, operations and maintenance, robustness, and survivability in the harsh offshore environment."</p>
  • <p><a href="http://www.seatricity.net/content/technology" target="_blank">Seatricity</a>'s floating buoys bob up and down with the waves operating "a pump to pressurize sea water which is piped ashore."</p>
  • <p>This giant "underwater windmill" has the capacity to generate power for 1,500 homes, according to its developer <a href="http://www.marineturbines.com/News/2012/09/05/world-leading-tidal-energy-system-achieves-5gwh-milestone" target="_blank">Marine Current Turbines</a>, now owned by Siemens.</p>
  • <p>Waverider buoys collect real-time wave data from <a href="http://www.emec.org.uk/wave-data/" target="_blank">EMEC’s test waters</a>.</p>
  • 01 /08

    Aquamarine Power’s Oyster concept is "a wave-powered pump which pushes high-pressure water to drive an onshore hydro-electric turbine."

  • 02 /08

    Atlantis Resource Corporation’s AR1000 is a tidal turbine fixed to the seabed. The consortium behind the concept has a goal of supplying electricity to 40,000 Scottish homes by 2020.

  • 03 /08

    Flumill's double helical corkscrew device "draws power from the tidal stream as the water moves up/through the spiral turning the turbines."

  • 04 /08

    Several companies are piloting Pelamis's wave technology. As waves pass down its five sections, the machine converts the movement into electricity "via hydraulic power take-off systems housed inside each joint."

  • 05 /08

    Scotrenewables’ floating tidal device generates power from two turbines fixed underneath its bow. The Orkney-based company points to its "ease of installation, operations and maintenance, robustness, and survivability in the harsh offshore environment."

  • 06 /08

    Seatricity's floating buoys bob up and down with the waves operating "a pump to pressurize sea water which is piped ashore."

  • 07 /08

    This giant "underwater windmill" has the capacity to generate power for 1,500 homes, according to its developer Marine Current Turbines, now owned by Siemens.

  • 08 /08

    Waverider buoys collect real-time wave data from EMEC’s test waters.

You could make a good case for Scotland being the center of the global marine energy industry. With perfect roiling seas, a well-funded testing and research hub, and consistent support from U.K. and Scottish governments, startups are experimenting with many intriguing wave and tidal devices—as the slide show of some of the most intriguing devices above testifies.

The bad news is that it’s unlikely any of these designs will produce much power before 2015. Aside from testing, the companies still have to work on bread-and-butter issues like getting power to land, rigging the devices into cost-effective "arrays," developing an installation and maintenance infrastructure, and negotiating the proper insurance.

But the good news is that it’s likely to happen some day—which is an improvement on a few years ago, when the industry looked, well, dead in the water. Startups point in particular to backing from some of Europe’s most important engineering and energy companies—names like Siemens, ABB, and Alstom, which have all made, or upped, investments recently.

An August report (PDF) said marine could produce 75 terrawatt hours per year by 2050, or about 10% of overall U.K. demand. Marine energy may still be a bit zany and a bit niche for some tastes. But Scotland, especially, is showing it has a future.

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