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An Ocean of Renewable Energy


Environment News Service
November 22, 2000


Inverness, Scotland -- The world's first commercial wave power station has been
connected to the national grid in Britain.

Wavegen and Queen's University, Belfast, jointly developed the LIMPET (Land
Installed Marine Powered Energy Transformer) wave system with financial support
from the European Union. This first site will generate 500 kilowatts of green
power on the Scottish island of Islay, which is known for its malt whiskies.
The energy from the plant is sufficient to power 400 homes.

"This is a big day for us," says managing director Allan Thomson. "Wavepower has
joined the important group of commercially viable, competitive and clean forms
of sustainable energy. This is the launch of a new global market."

LIMPET offers modular construction and simple operation, and company officials
predict its applications will fill a growing need in coastal communities around
the world that are trying to replace diesel generation.

QUB installed a small research wave energy station on Islay in 1990, and its
successful operation led to development of the LIMPET project.

"It is very satisfying to find 20 years of collaborative academic research being
developed commercially," says QUB professor Trevor Whittaker. "LIMPET is an
important milestone in the development of this vast ocean resource."

The LIMPET uses an oscillating water column in an inclined concrete tube that
has its opening below the water level. Wave action causes the water level in the
collector to oscillate, and this variation alternately compresses and
decompresses the trapped air in the column. The air flows back and forth through
a pair of generating turbines which are driven in the same direction at all
times, regardless of the direction of the airflow.

The unit is designed to operate on the shoreline, or can be incorporated within
rubble mounds or caisson breakwaters to provide coastal protection schemes as
well as power generation. Key features include low cost power, maximum local
content and a 60-year life with minimal maintenance.

The Islay site opens the door for wave power to become a contributor of
renewable energy and to help meet obligations under the Kyoto Protocol by
reducing emissions of greenhouse gases, explains Thomson. The station has
secured a 15-year power purchase agreement with Public Electricity Suppliers in Scotland.

WAVEGEN is backed by UNOTEC Holding AG of Switzerland, AGIP UK of Italy’s ENI
Group, and the European venture capital company 3i. The company was established
in 1992 by Thomson and professor Alan Wells, inventor of the Wells air turbine.

"To see a new renewable energy source reaching this stage is an important day
for all people involved since its beginning," adds Philippe Schild, a scientific
officer with the European Commission. "LIMPET is there to prove that energy can
be extracted commercially from the ocean."

 

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