Scotland partners with Maldives to assess marine energy potential

Scotland and the Maldives have announced a partnership to assess the island nation’s potential to develop wave, tidal and ocean thermal sources of renewable energy.

Marine energy remains relatively unexploited compared to the present adoption of wind and solar, but has significant advantages over the latter two in that ocean water movements are massive, predictable and consistent. The geological structure of the Maldives’ atolls and the country’s strong currents make it a natural candidate for the technology.

However large installations can impact currents and the ecosystems in which they are placed, are expensive and technologically nascent, and limited to certain sites.

Wave energy harnesses the kinetic energy of moving water to power an underwater turbine, feeding energy into a generator, and are generally used for small-scale applications.

Tidal energy, in contrast, traps water in a reservoir at high tide and then drains it through a turbine much like a hydroelectric dam. This requires a large difference between high and low tides and is location-specific, but can be deployed on a large-scale – one such plant in France powers 240,000 homes.

Ocean thermal energy generation meanwhile exploits the temperature differences between different ocean depths (surface temperatures are warmer due to the sun) to generate energy, but is comparatively expensive and requires advanced engineering.

Scotland is regarded as a world leader in both potential for and adoption of both wave and tidal power generation technology, with 10 agreements signed this year to produce a potential 1.2GW – enough power for 700,000 homes.

Under the agreement signed with the Maldives, Scotland’s Robert Gordon University will conduct an assessment of the wave, tidal and ocean thermal potential of the Maldives

The £48,000 (US$76,000) study will report in 2011 and lead to a joint exploitation of the resources by the two countries, supported by the European Union’s Support to Climate Change Adaptation and Mitigation in the Maldives Fund, administered by the World Bank.

Maldives Environment Minister Mohamed Aslam said that as an island nation spread over a thousand kilometres of ocean, “I believe marine renewables hold enormous potential to make the Maldives an international energy leader in the zero-carbon economy of the future.

“If the Maldives can demonstrate that low carbon development is not just practical but also profitable, we hope larger countries will follow suit.”

Chairman of the Energy Technology Partnership, Professor Jim McDonald, an alliance of Scottish universities working on the project, he believed that the Maldives “has a significant potential marine energy resource and we look forward to contributing our world-class expertise to this project and delivering real value to both countries from this collaboration.”

Scottish Energy Minister Jim Mather noted that Scotland was at the forefront of developing the technology, as well as possessing a quarter of Europe’s wave [energy generation] potential, and with “significant planned investment in the sector”.

“This study is a most effective way to help the Maldives and let Scotland play its part in the urgent global need to move to a low carbon economy,” Mather said.