EMEC at 20: Pioneering a clean energy future

EMEC charts a remarkable 20-year journey of pioneering ocean energy, spearheading innovations in green hydrogen, floating wind, and beyond for a clean energy future.

Established in 2003 as a not-for-profit innovation catalyst, the European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC) celebrates its 20th anniversary. From its inception in Orkney, Scotland, EMEC has evolved into the world’s leading centre for demonstrating wave and tidal energy converters, has played a crucial role in fostering the ocean energy sector, and has expanded its focus to include green hydrogen, floating wind, clean transport, and broader energy systems.

Pioneering ocean energy

EMEC’s inception was driven by a mission to kick-start the development of the ocean energy industry. Throughout the years, it has provided pre-consented grid-connected test sites in harsh wave and tidal regimes.

Notably, EMEC has hosted more ocean energy devices than any other site globally. The facility has witnessed historic milestones, including hosting the world’s first offshore wave energy device to generate power into a national grid in 2004 and seeing the first tidal stream turbine generating electricity for the UK national grid in 2008.

The ongoing wave of innovation

Today, EMEC continues to lead the way with supporting the demonstration of cutting-edge clean energy technologies. The Orbital O2, currently the world’s most powerful tidal turbine, reflects a remarkable 80% UK supply content, showcasing a commitment to local manufacturing.

EMEC’s plug-and-play facility has become a cornerstone for companies seeking to test and commercialise sustainable technologies efficiently. This approach reduces time, cost, and risk and fosters collaborations and knowledge-sharing initiatives, propelling cross-sectoral innovation.

Diversification into green hydrogen and beyond

EMEC’s focus is on more than just ocean energy. The centre has diversified into green hydrogen, floating wind, and clean transport. An R&D hydrogen ecosystem featuring electrolysers, fuel cells, storage, and refuelling, has been established for first-of-a-kind and pilot-scale projects, aiming to decarbonise power, heat, and transport applications.

In 2017, EMEC achieved a significant milestone by generating the world’s first tidal-powered hydrogen at the Fall of Warness tidal test site.

Furthermore, EMEC is pursuing the development of a national floating offshore wind test site west of Orkney. This site is designed to de-risk technologies for floating wind developers, putting turbines, floating structures, moorings, and other components to the test in an energetic offshore environment.

Simultaneously, a major research and innovation programme for offshore wind is being developed in collaboration with the West of Orkney Windfarm. This programme aims to overcome technical challenges, bring economic benefits to the north of Scotland, and accelerate the deployment of offshore wind with lower risk.

Driving economic development

EMEC’s impact extends well beyond technological advancements. The centre’s presence in Orkney has been a catalyst for economic development, creating jobs and fostering a world-leading supply chain.

Local services have also diversified, with fishing, diving, and oil and gas companies contributing to the marine renewables sector. An economic impact assessment revealed that EMEC added an impressive £370m GVA to the UK economy between 2003 and 2023.

A global beacon of innovation

EMEC’s influence extends globally, with its infrastructure and experience being leveraged in wider energy systems innovation. Microsoft, for instance, demonstrated a subsea data centre at EMEC’s offshore test site from 2018-2020, showcasing the versatility of EMEC’s facilities.

Moreover, EMEC is spearheading the creation of the Islands Centre for Net Zero, a pan-island distributed innovation centre funded through the Islands Deal. This initiative aims to support Orkney, Shetland, and the Outer Hebrides in becoming lighthouse communities in the clean energy transition.

Pioneering clean energy for two decades As EMEC marks two decades of innovation, its transformative journey from pioneering ocean energy to driving advancements in green hydrogen, floating wind, and broader energy systems is commendable. The centre’s commitment to sustainability, economic development, and global collaboration positions it as a beacon of innovation in transitioning to a clean energy future.

EMEC’s legacy extends beyond its Orkney base, contributing to a more sustainable and resilient energy landscape worldwide. As we look ahead, EMEC stands as a testament to the power of innovation in shaping a greener, more sustainable future for generations to come.

Please note, this article will also appear in the sixteenth edition of our quarterly publication.

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