Orkney’s marine energy industry focus of Japanese visit

Orkney’s marine energy industry has been the focus of a fact-finding visit by Japanese politicians and business leaders.

The 10-strong party from the Nagasaki Prefecture, on the island of Kyushu, toured the European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC) in Stromness at the weekend to learn more about Orkney’s role at the forefront of the global wave and tidal energy sector.

The visit, hosted by EMEC and the Orkney-based environmental consultancy firm Aquatera, comes as Japan looks to establish its own marine energy test centre sites.

“Last year saw Nagasaki designated as a marine energy test site area by the Japanese Government,” said Ian Johnstone, senior consultant with Aquatera. “We’ve been working with colleagues in Japan for a number of years to help progress their plans and this current visit is all about the operational aspects of running a test site. In addition, our experience of working with the supply chain companies supporting the wave and tidal energy developers operating in Orkney enables us to advise and assist the wider community in Nagasaki as it looks to take advantage of this developing industry.”

Takaaki Morita, director of Nagasaki Prefectural Government’s marine energy development office, said EMEC was recognised in Japan as the leading organisation for wave and tidal testing. Collaboration with the Orkney centre was vital if plans for a similar facility in Nagasaki were to come to fruition.

“We are an island with a lot of people and there is a strong local demand to make marine energy successful,” he said. “Nagasaki wants to lead this movement towards marine renewables and be the frontrunner of a new industry in Japan.”

Neil Kermode, managing director of EMEC, said Japan had clearly realised the potential of marine energy, both in terms of harvesting it for its own use and as a potential new market for the country’s manufacturing and technology businesses.

“We’ve been very keen to help set up a test centre in Japan and believe that a college of like-minded centres around the world will actually help the industry move forward faster than if we don’t know what’s going on, or are at loggerheads, trying to go in different directions,” said Mr Kermode. “In addition, we think there’s a big opportunity for our supply chain to work with Japan and we also fully expect Japanese machines to be deployed in Scottish waters, harvesting energy around our coasts.”

Whilst the wave energy sector has experienced some setbacks recently, large-scale tidal energy generation schemes in Scottish waters are now moving closer to becoming a reality. In Orkney, where more marine energy devices have been tested than at any other site in the world, the developing wave and tidal industry now supports around 300 jobs.

According to Mr Kermode, collaboration with other nations seeking to follow the Orkney model should be seen as a positive step for the emerging wave and tidal industry, rather than a threat, though he did sound a note of caution.

“It’s a sign that other places are showing the same faith in marine energy as we have done in Scotland, but it’s also a wake up call that we haven’t got the game all to ourselves anymore. We are going to face interest from elsewhere and it’s really important that we don’t overlook the fact that if we don’t make a good job of this, somebody else will.”

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