Real Lives: Honoured for making waves in marine energy

The inventor of the “sea snake” wave energy converter has landed a prestigious award for his contribution to the development of marine energy.

Dr Richard Yemm received the Saltire Prize medal from First Minister Alex Salmond at an awards ceremony on Tuesday.

Dr Yemm is best known as the inventor of the Pelamis wave energy device, an offshore converter that uses the motion of waves to generate electricity.

A graduate of Edinburgh University – where he gained a first class honours degree in mechanical engineering in 1989 – Dr Yemm went on to study for a PhD under Professor Stephen Salter and began work on his concept of a machine that would create energy from the waves.

The device was later developed by Leith-based Pelamis Wave Power, the firm which Dr Yemm founded in 1998 and which has since become the leading company in the marine renewables sector.


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He remained chief executive there until 2007 and raised tens of millions of pounds in funding, as well as delivery in 2004 of the world’s first wave electricity from offshore waves into an onshore grid.

The breakthrough led to the company securing the world’s first commercial order for a multi-machine “wave farm” a year later.

Dr Yemm was awarded the prize at the Scottish Renewables annual conference dinner.

The annual award – presented as part of the Scottish Government’s Saltire Prize – aims to recognise outstanding contributions by individuals and groups to the development of wave and tidal power generation.


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Colleagues praised Dr Yemm as an individual who has been instrumental in raising the profile of marine renewables.

Niall Stuart, chief executive of Scottish Renewables, said: “Richard Yemm will undoubtedly be looked upon as one of the most influential people to the development of Scotland’s marine industry – from the drawing board to grid-connected devices and making important steps to commercial-scale projects.”

Mr Salmond said: “I was delighted to present Richard Yemm with the Saltire Prize medal, an accolade which he richly deserves for his tireless commitment to the development of wave energy generation.

“Richard’s drive, ambition and vision should be an inspiration to young people.”


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Accepting the medal, Dr Yemm said: “It is a huge honour to be presented with this prestigious award, which I am delighted to accept on behalf of all who have worked tirelessly alongside me over the years to deliver on this once-in-a-generation opportunity for Scottish engineering and industry.

“This is an individual award, but wherever you look across this sector you can see exceptional individuals working together as one team.”