Tom Wills has always found energy in the sea. Growing up in Bressay, the island that provides the shelter for Lerwick Harbour, he would sail, windsurf and surf in the chilly Shetland sea, obsessed with the winds and tides. Now, he’s the Offshore Manager for Nova Innovation, the company that has installed the world’s first tidal energy array in the Bluemull Sound between the North Isles of Yell and Unst, and is about to install their first Canadian turbine in Nova Scotia.
“My whole career has been about the sea,” says Tom, who was the president of the Glasgow University surfing and kitesurfing club while studying mechanical engineering there. He’s worked in marine energy ever since – first for wave energy company Aquamarine Power at the European Marine Energy Centre in Orkney, then as a wave and tidal energy consultant for Aquatera in South America, based mostly in Chile, where he met his wife Andrea.
“I’ve tended to go to places with waves and wind. It’s great to be back home and working at the forefront of a new kind of renewable energy. We’re now making electricity from the tide reliably and are focused on bringing down the cost of generation. Tidal energy has the potential to be a really important energy source, and it’s exciting that Shetland is at the centre of that.”
Tidal energy has the potential to be a really important energy source, and it’s exciting that Shetland is at the centre of that.
Like many sea-facing Shetlanders, Tom is well-travelled. He spent part of his sixth year in Sweden while at Lerwick’s Anderson High School and did a year of his engineering degree in Bordeaux, taking all of his lessons in French. He also completed a Master’s degree in marine and coastal engineering in Norway. While working for Aquatera, he spent six months in Singapore and Bali, learning Indonesian while Andrea did forestry conservation work (he also speaks fluent Spanish).
But the pull of home has always been powerful – especially since Tom and Andrea had a son, Benji, in 2018. “The longer I was away, the more I realised how special Shetland is, and the quality of life you can have here,” he says. “It’s such a great place to bring up kids.”