Off the coast of Scotland, waves are rolling as they always have, and Oyster 2 is breaking ground to harness them. Two years ago, Oyster 1 was installed in the town of Orkney, and now a second wave-energy converter is being bolted down.
The Oyster, made by Aquamarine Power, is a smart device which harnesses the power of waves to produce electricity — a group of ten can power up to 3,000 homes. Oyster 1 was a huge success, producing energy 24 hours and surviving two Scottish winters. It worked for a steady 6,000 hours and was only built to last the two years which it did — it is now being replaced by Oyster 2.
The Oyster’s design is pretty unique: the submerged piece uses the motion of the waves to pump high pressure water to an onshore hydro-electric turbine, thereby creating electricity. The fact that the main part of the machinery is on shore means that repairs don’t have to involve a scuba suit. In addition, the Oyster itself is not that far offshore: only about 500 meters, submerged in water that is pretty shallow compared to open ocean; this type of area has wave patterns that are a lot more stable, but at the same time has less severe weather than further out, a double bonus for the Oyster. Another major feature built into the Oyster is it’s need for nothing other than water — no toxic oil or any other goo is needed to run the machine, just plain old H2O.
Although Aquamarine Power is already actively scouting areas in Ireland and Oregon (with a $50,000 grant from the Oregon Wave Energy Trust, to boot), these Oysters are still largely prototypes — very successful ones, but nonetheless single units, not yet a whole farm. Since Oyster’s proven success, Aquamarine Power wants to attach these babies anywhere in the world that has waves — Australia, South Africa, Chile, among many others.
How cool would it be if wave farms like these replaced the power plants of coastal cities? With efficient wave conversion, it may be possible to reach houses a certain distance inland, as well, while supplementing other forms of renewable energy. I’d like to see how these impact local wildlife, but apart from that, the Oyster sounds extremely promising; I will be following its progress closely.