Ocean Current (Wired)

Climb aboard the world’s first marine-energy test bed


Giant whirlpools, 100-knot winds, some of Europe’s mightiest tides: The icy waters off Scotland’s northern tip are no place for pleasure craft. But they’re ideal for power-generation systems that harness the restless fury of the sea — which is why the European Marine Energy Centre has set up shop in the Orkney Islands.

Think of it as the Bonneville Salt Flats of hydrokinetics: EMEC offers companies a place to try out their clean tech. The center’s remotely operated vehicles film underwater, and microphones will eventually monitor for noise pollution. First in was Dublin-based OpenHydro, which recently began trials on its second turbine (shown here raised for inspection). Carbon-free hydrokinetic power could ultimately provide up to 20 percent of the UK’s electricity needs. But environmental concerns may still sink the effort: Critics warn of industrialized coastlines and harm to sea life. The US faces similar challenges — without a testing facility. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has okayed a pilot marine-power project for Makah Bay, off the Washington coast, but environmental approval is still pending. By the time the inevitable court battles are resolved, the waves may be lapping at our doorsteps.