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October 6, 2009

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Sea Snake waves hi to green generation

A SCARLET Sea Snake is taking shape in Edinburgh's docks, designed to harness the waves of Britain's northern seas to generate electricity.

Dwarfed by 180 meters of tubing, scores of engineers clamber over the device, which is designed to dip and ride the swelling sea. Each move will be converted into power to be channeled through subsea cables.

Due to be installed next spring at the European Marine Energy Centre in Orkney, northern Scotland, the wave power generator was ordered by German power company E.ON, reflecting serious interest in an emerging technology which is much more expensive than offshore wind.

Interest from the utility companies is driven by regulatory requirements to cut carbon emissions from electricity generation, and it helps in a capital-intensive sector.

Long-term view

"Our view ... is this is a 2020 market place," said Amaan Lafayette, E.ON's marine development manager. "We would like to see a small-scale plant of our own in water in 2015-2017, built on what we are doing here. It's a kind of power generation we haven't done before."

The World Energy Council has estimated the market potential for wave energy at more than 2,000 terawatt hours a year, about 10 percent of world electricity needs, representing capital expenditure of more than 500 billion pounds (US$796 billion).

Britain has a leading role in developing the technology for marine power, which government adviser the Carbon Trust says could in future account for 20 percent of the country's electricity.

The government is stepping up support as part of a 405 million pound investment in renewable energy to help its ambition of cutting carbon emissions by 80 percent by 2050 from 1990 levels, while securing energy supply.

"We are often compared to the wind industry 20 years ago," said Andrew Scott, project development manager at Pelamis Wave Power Ltd, which is developing the Sea Snake system, known as P2.

Standing beside the train-sized serpent, Scott said wave power projects are taking a variety of forms, which he said was similar to the development of the wind turbine.

A single Sea Snake has capacity of 750 kilowatts. By around 2015, Pelamis hopes each unit will have capacity of 20 megawatts, or enough to power about 30,000 homes.


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