Portuguese surfers keeping an eye on the weather will be joined this month by engineers and businessmen, but they will be hoping for very different reports. The men and women behind the latest renewable energy project will be looking for a flat, calm sea.
Portugal is poised to open what will be the world’s first commercial wavefarm, and while the coastline’s formidable surf will be a source of electricity, the engineers need a decent “weather window” to be able to get their machinery out to sea.
The Pelamis machines, named after the Latin for sea snake and developed by a Scottish company that leads the world in one of the newest renewable energy fields, are a series of red tubes, each about the size of a small commuter train, linked together, and pointed in the direction of the waves. The waves travel down the tubes, causing them to bob up and down, and a hydraulic system harnesses this movement to generate electricity.
The three “sea snakes” will soon be towed out to a spot some three miles from the coast of northern Portugal at Agucadoura, from where the electricity they produce will be pumped into the national grid.
But the hi-tech venture has not been without its problems. The latest date for inauguration of the wavefarm was to be Wednesday, but a combination of bad weather, bad luck and the pitfalls of developing any new technology has meant the machines are still on dry land, awaiting the next calm spell to be taken out to sea.