Pelamis platurus, otherwise known as the Yellowbelly Sea Snake, has a new mechanical namesake, a flexible 180-meter monster — nearly the length of two football fields.
It is floating here next to a dock, ready to go to sea.
The giant red machine is named after the serpent, one of the few known to thrive in the open sea. The device is designed so that when it’s hit by big waves, it writhes snake-like in the water. As it does, its hydraulic pistons move back and forth. They power its generators to produce a rated 750 kilowatts of electricity.
Pelamis is the second generation of “wave energy converters” designed by Pelamis Wave Power Ltd. After some rough sailing, it is beginning to catch on. The machine in the water was ordered and is now owned by giant German power utility E.ON. Another is under order by Scottish Power, and an array of other investors are interested in the product. Still, the company admits, there is much work left to be done.
“We started on a hand-to-mouth basis, and essentially, we are still operating like that,” business development director Max Carcas told ClimateWire on a gray and rainy day in the company’s sparse offices in a cavernous building here, formerly used to manufacture generators.
But right opposite from where the Pelamis machine is moored is the visible reason why its clean power is seeing rising demand. There are great mounds of imported coal being loaded onto rail cars for shipment to a local power station to be burned and release thousands of tons of climate-changing carbon into the atmosphere.
“That,” said Carcas wryly, “is our competition. Romanian coal.”
It is never easy to take an untried idea and make it commercial. When the technology is cutting-edge, the environment in which it will operate is unforgiving. The payback is commercially uncertain, although the project is morally praiseworthy. And the gulf between political rhetoric and financial reality is often vast.