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Oyster Wave Power Machine Generates Electricity Onshore; Sea Trials Begin This Autumn

The Oyster concept for transforming wave power to onshore electricity. Click to enlarge.

A new type of wave power machine—Oyster—is being installed on the seabed off the Atlantic shores of the Orkney Islands for trials that begin this autumn. In contrast to many other wave power devices, Oyster uses hydraulic technology to transfer wave power to shore, where it is then converted into electricity.

Oyster is fitted with an 18m-wide oscillator based on fundamental research at Queen’s University Belfast led by Professor Trevor Whittaker. The oscillator is fitted with pistons and, when activated by wave action, pumps high-pressure water through a sub-sea pipeline to the shore. Onshore, conventional hydroelectric generators convert this high-pressure water into electrical energy.

The whole field of generating electricity from wave power is ground breaking, but Oyster technology is highly innovative because it relies on simplicity. Its offshore component—a highly reliable flap with minimal submerged moving parts—is the key to its success when operating in seas vulnerable to bad weather where maintenance can be very difficult. There is no underwater generator, power electronics or gearbox underwater to go wrong. All the complex power generation equipment remains easily accessible onshore.

—Dr Ronan Doherty, Chief Technical Officer of Aquamarine Power, developer of the Oyster

The Oyster prototype. Click to enlarge.

Oyster is designed to be deployed at near-shore water depths of 12 to 16 meters, benefiting from the more consistent seas and narrower directional spread of the waves in this location. The reduced wave height and load enhance survivability and allow a high percentage of annual average power and consistent power delivery. Any excess energy is spilled over the top of the flap, its rotational capacity allowing it to literally duck under the waves.

The environmental risks associated with the device are minimized by using only water as its hydraulic fluid, rather than oil, and there are no toxic substances involved. It is also silent in operation. Based on figures from the Carbon Trust, each Oyster’s annual carbon saving could be as much as 500 tonnes.

Although at an early stage of development, the Oyster concept could have significant potential for use in many locations around the world.

Our computer modeling of coastlines suitable for this technology shows that Spain, Portugal, Ireland and the UK are ideal candidates in Europe. But globally there is huge scope in areas like the North West coast of the USA and coastlines off South Africa, Australia and Chile. We estimate that the potential size of the market could be in excess of £50 billion.

—Ronan Doherty

Aquamarine has signed an agreement with Airtricity for the development of up to 1,000MW of marine energy sites by 2020 using Oyster technology.

In collaboration with Aquamarine, Oyster will be the sixth wave power sea trial for the Environmental Engineering Research Centre (EERC), Queen’s University Belfast. Research at QUB, which contributed to the Oyster technology, was supported by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, UK.

The EERC at QUB has also worked with Wavegen (A Voith Hydro company, earlier post) on the Limpet wave power machine.



I am highly skecptical that this type of energy production can be widely deployed. It would degrade too much the seashore, and it is not environmentaly safe. Wave are part of eco-system, they generate water current on the seashore that has an important role in the eco-systeme. Wave energy collecting system shouldn't be located very close to the shore.


Well yeah there is that, but my problem with this is the need for water depths of 12 to 16 meters. That's a very narrow band of possible sites and if you exclude all the environmentaly sensitive shorelines how much energy can you collect?


One can reach a point in environmentalist thinking where one begins to advocate for the extinction of humanity because humans occupy habitat of microbes and insects other animals, and humans are using oxygen that would otherwise be used by creatures. See where your logic is going Treehugger? These people haven't even started trials of their system and you're bashing it with fringe environmentalist arguments. Your ideas may sound fine in academia where they get amens from people that have never truly worked for a living - but the real world is different.


Well said ejj....waves are plentiful.

Harvesting waves could be part of the energy basket.

Thomas Lankester

I have to say Treehugger that if the RSPB can support wind farms on the principle that climate change is more of a threat to wild birds than bird strikes on turbines, then surely you could consider the same for wave power. The new raft of proposed nuclear power stations in the UK will mainly be coastally located. The disruption to ecosystems from the massive warm cooling water outflows should not be ignored. Alternatives like this deserve a fair trial - which will include assessment of any environmental impacts.

You also seem to ignore the effects of stronger mean wave power and sea level rise on coastal ecosystems resulting from the warming climate. If anything, the coastal ecosystems might benefit from a slight dampening of the incoming waves.


Man has built breakwaters for a long time. And the ecology of natural bays where waves are low doesn't seem that bad.

I wouldn't worry about trying wave power. It can be easily ended if there is a bad impact.

Some nuclear power plants have been cooled by seawater for decades. The experience from those sites should tell us whether we want to build more. I think we should, but let the evidence decide.

A great deal of nuclear heat now is lost. Cogeneration should considered for new plants.


And another thing with Treehugger's flawed argument - before he condemns a renewable energy system placed along shorelines for fear of fouling up the poor benthic ecosystems located there, why doesn't he routinely call for the complete global elimination of the automobile? Seems to be there is a daily wildlife holocaust that occurs worldwide from vehicle-animal collisions...and yet roads & cars haven't led to the mass extinction of all kinds of animal species.


Not sure about it being highly innovative, or a "new type of wave generating machine" - it is very similar to the Ceto from Carnegie/Renewable Energy Holdings except for the main moving part. Ceto has been running live sea trials for a few years and are testing their 3rd generation. As an added extra they state their system can be configured to vary the amount of high-pressure seawater which is used for power generation vs desalination.

Still the more companies try this type of thing the more likely the best solution will be found.


I mentioned wave pumps bringing sea water up to elevation for pumped hydro years ago on here, there is was then and here it is now. People said it would never work then and the same is said now. "It will never fly Orville" will be heard through out time.

Henry Gibson

Ever notice how many acres of equipment are needed for renewable energy collection. Just look at farms.

Bury nuclear power plants under towns and pipe pseudo geothermal hot water up to the buildings. First the hot water generates a small amount of electricity and then the waste heat is used for heating and cooling. The sun shows that nuclear heat is cheap. ..HG..


I'd love to watch the estate agents try and sell homes in a town with a reactor buried under it....

A 500 tonne saving equates to around 1GWh which seems relatively modest for something of that size.


I'm with HG on geothermal. I think it's shameful how geothermal energy has been neglected so much by politicians & enviros. ExxonMobil can drill miles down into the ground, use hydraulic fracturing and directional drilling to get natural gas - but we can't do the same all over the place out west to set up geothermal energy production plants? Secure, terrorist-resistant, renewable domestic energy.

I'm pretty ignorant with respect to the technology but I understand geothermal has traditionally involved two wells drilled straight down and relatively close to each other with water going down one, being heated up in the earth and coming up the other to drive steam turbines for electricity. Hydraulic fracturing and directional drilling for geothermal projects could allow for elaborate wells that are exponentially more productive---it's already revolutionized the natural gas industry in the US...why not geothermal? Maybe the special interests are preventing significantly more $$$$ for R&D from being spent on it. I'm baffled and disappointed.


I agree ejj.

Alex, Tunbridge Wells

Actually, reducing wave height is one of the advantages of this type of machine. Waves erode coasts and cause flooding. If we can reduce the wave power, we can reduce their effect.

Likewise, let's have lots of tidal power to reduce the tidal range in the North Sea. That will lower the risk of flooding by reducing the tidal range.


Wave, tide, geothermal, solar, wind and renewable methane should be able to power the country without fossil or nuclear. If you run an energy efficient society, you find that you do not need all that much in the first place.


Interesting idea. Certainly should be given a chance to show its ability to be competitive with other renewables and conventional energy.

There are designs similar to this coming from Queensland AU, where the collector sits on the ocean floor. One advantage according to its designer is the flange lays flat in severe surface weather - avoiding damage potential.

Geothermal should be able to power the Hawaiian Islands. Problems with corrosion, and sensitive siting have dogged it for years. Currently there is one plant Puna Geothermal Venture (PGV)generating 25-35 MW annually on the Big Island.


Another idea for the Hawaiian Islands would be OTEC. The Hawaiian Islands were one of the sites for research in OTEC about 20 years ago.


Deep underground (or under nearby mountains) nuclear plants, not too far from populated areas, may not be such a bad idea.

Underground steam pipes and cables could bring the excess heat and e-power for use by nearby residents and industries.

The adjacent underground caves could be enlarged progressively to store radio-acive materials for centuries.

From a safety and security point of view, it could be superior to any above ground plants.

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