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BLOG: The wonderful world of Wello, and other Orkney stories

Posted on 15/08/2019 by Nick Sharpe

That the inside of a 1,700 ton wave energy converter was one of the strangest places I've ever been should have come as no surprise.

Hatston pier in Kirkwall was voted the best cruise destination in Western Europe by Cruise Critic last month, and Wello’s second-gen Penguin makes an incongruous edition to the ranks of cruise liners popping in to Orkney each week.

In fact its unique shape - more like the eponymous aquatic bird than anything normally seen in the world's harbours - was drawing a crowd as I approached for a tour earlier this month.

With one asymmetrical wing flung far out on its right-hand side, a bulging, windowless deck house and a prow which rises 20 feet above the sea, the Penguin is a strange beast.

Why the weird shape, asked the passing cruise passengers.

The Penguin, which is so much more below the waterline than it is above, is built in this way because it’s designed to be the polar opposite of an average ship.

It's designed to roll as much as possible in even the slightest swell, and even ‘dive’ through larger waves, collecting power as it goes.

Waves which wouldn't bother Northlink’s MV Hamnavoe on its regular ferry run to Orkney would send the 170 ton steel weight inside the Penguin’s belly rolling on its offset axis, producing renewable energy rather than the comfort of passengers.

The seas around Orkney - chosen by the Finnish company to test its second Penguin after the demise of the first in March - are the best in the world for doing so.

The marine energy resource in Orkney is ably facilitated by EMEC, the European Marine Energy Centre.

It boasts:

  • Tidal streams which flow at considerably more than a comfortable running speed
  • Winter waves which would swamp a five-storey building
  • 13 grid-connected test berths
  • More marine energy converters deployed than at any other single site in the world

Regulars visitors this blog may remember Chief Executive Claire Mack and Director of Policy Jenny Hogan also wrote about the archipelago after a trip there last year.

But it's that kind of place: go, be inspired, come home and tell everyone.

The Fall of Warness test site is an experience like no other.

A narrow strip of water, sandwiched between the low-lying grassy humps of Eday and Muckle Green Holm, roars and boils as the spring tide pours past.

Magallanes’ second generation ATIR tidal energy device appears to be moving forward like a ship, with white water foaming around its bow. In fact, the 2MW machine is standing still, tethered securely to the seabed while half a billion tons of water flows past every hour.

The tidal energy devices harnessed to the Fall of Warness test berths are even visible from space: that’s the kind of impact Orkney’s making on the world.

Wave energy’s recent, and not so recent, travails are outlined at Billia Croo on the Orkney Mainland’s west coast. Five test berths, connected to a substation cunningly nestled in the landscape and hidden from view, lie empty.

But if wave energy is going to succeed anywhere, it's going to succeed in Orkney.

And that's the most impressive thing of all about this scattering of low-lying, sheep-filled islands off the northern tip of Scotland.

Some of the brightest brains in any sector - not just the energy sector - have come to Orkney and made their homes here with the sole purpose of trying and trying and trying again until marine energy reaches its potential.

A night out in Stromness is, I'm told, like a meeting of the United Nations - only, for once, everyone's pulling in the same direction.

I went to Orkney to see the technology I’d been writing about for almost six years at Scottish Renewables.

But, like anyone who goes there, what I discovered was much more than just technology.

Orkney is a place which left behind motivational quotes and feasibility studies long ago, took action, and now stands at the forefront of the renewable energy revolution.

Long may it be so.

Nick Sharpe

Director of Communications