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Sea snakes from Wiltshire...

The UK enjoys more than 7,000 miles of coastline and remains one of our greatest natural resources. The power of the waves beating down on that huge expanse of coastline has long held people in awe. But over the past few years, attempts to harness that power have grown increasingly successful. Will a team from landlocked Wiltshire prove it can be done in a reliable and economic way?

Checkmate Seaenergy Ltd, based in Melksham in Wiltshire have developed a device called The Anaconda which they claim can produce electricity from wave power in an entirely new way. Whereas many previous (and current) attempts to harness wave power have relied predominantly on mechanical concepts, the Anaconda is almost completely free of moving parts.

As the name suggests, it is essentially a long (snakelike) tube, which is made of rubber and filled with water. The Anaconda rides the waves, whose force sends a bulge along the tube to the end where the energy is converted into electricity by a turbine. Like all good ideas, it sounds incredibly simple.

The current prototype is nine metres long but the company has hopes for full-scale 200 metre models operating in the seas in the next five years. The makers believe its lack of moving parts gives it a great advantage over other designs due to its ability to withstand the rigours of life at sea.

Other systems that I’ve seen have appeared somewhat cumbersome, one of which utilised hydraulic rams to drive generators through the up and down motion of the sea. The theory behind it seemed sound enough, but I couldn’t help thinking that in mountainous waves, the system would take a severe battering.

However, The Anaconda generates less than half the electricity of some other wave power systems at 1MW. But as is becoming very clear recently, it’s not just the amount of power that is produced, but the cost of it that is also important. The Anaconda at full scale will be a relatively cheap £2m and capable of producing power at a non-astronomical 9p per KWh, compared with 25p per KWh for other wave energy devices.

So it is clear that engineers and designers have huge challenges to undertake over the next few years, but also ones that I am sure they will relish as they are the essence of what makes people want to become engineers in the first place. There’s a whole load of energy in those waves over there, how can I get it out and use it elsewhere in an economical way?

Fascinating stuff to follow, I hope you’ll agree.

Enjoy the newsletter,

Richard Scott

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