Turning the tide: Scotland's first tidal power generator

Christopher McFadden

Scotland surges forward with its low carbon policy with the announcement of the switching on of its first 1.5MW tidal stream turbines. This is the first tidal power generator of four that will eventually be installed in the Inner Sound of Scotland's Pentland Firth.

Atlantis wants to grow the project to dozens of turbines, the BBC reported. In total, it should generate roughly 400 megawatts of electricity through tidal power. Besides being renewable, tidal power is predictable in ways sun and wind power aren’t.

The turbine itself is similar in design to wind turbines, consisting of three blades which can be turned 180 degrees to accommodate the direction of tidal flow. Atlantis said the nacelles of both turbines “contain a generator and gearbox, but the power conditioning equipment is housed in the onshore facilities.”

The turbines are designed by Andritz Hydro Hammerfest (AHH). The full installation will be built with turbines from both AHH and in-house Atlantis turbines, which look similar.

European companies, with the support of central governments and the European Union, are positioning themselves to lead the world in tidal energy generation technology.

The UK is at the forefront of developments within the tidal power sector. The geography of the region provides it with massive potential.

Turning the tide: Scotland's first tidal power generator[Image Source: Atlantis Resources]

A Wave of Tidal Energy

The potential for tidal power generation is palpable. Once installed, long-term reliable power generation is certainly an attractive prospect. The first installation was in France in 1966 at the Rance Tidal Power Station which is still operational today.

So why isn't tidal a major element in most non-landlocked country's power generation mix? Answer: the cost. Any engineering project offshore has unique challenges. Not to mention limits on location and ecological concerns that such installations could impact upon.

Underwater turbines have been underrepresented in the renewables industry due to the extensive capital investment needed. Also, finding an ideal location can be difficult and challenging. These kinds of facilities generally need to be close to land. This is to take advantage of heavy tides but not impact on local ecologies and peoples livelihoods.

Studies suggest one-third of the UK's total electricity needs could be met by tidal power alone. Alex Salmond, Scotland's first minister, predicted that the Pentland Firth region, where the north-east Atlantic meets the North Sea, will become the "Saudi Arabia" of marine energy.

It has been estimated the around 8TWh of potential tidal power generation could be possible in the Pentland Firth. This would be around 8 percent of the UK's electrical consumption of 350 TWh.

Under the Sea

The installation of this Scottish turbine follows extensive work last year to lay subsea cables from the site to terra firma ('dry land'). Foundations were also laid to support the turbines.

This project also follows Nova Innovations two-turbine Bluemull Sound project, in Shetland. That project had become the first offshore tidal array in the world to deliver power.

Atlantis's Tim Cornelius said, "This is the moment we have been working towards since we first identified the MeyGen site back in 2007.

"I am immensely proud of and grateful for the remarkable team of people who have contributed to this milestone - our suppliers, our funders, our supportive shareholders, and of course the project team, whose commitment, tenacity and belief have been without equal."

Cornelius continued by saying he looked forward to putting out more updates and promising news as the project develops into its fully operational phase:

"It's especially exciting to be making this announcement on the morning after the first 'super moon' in 68 years - last night, those of us with clear skies were able to get a good view of the powerhouse behind tidal energy, and be reminded that even in times like these there are still predictions we can rely on."

turbine_schematic[Image Source: Atlantis Resources - MeyGen]

Diving in

MeyGen's initial stage has been funded through a combination of debt, equity and grants from Atlantis (the majority stakeholder), Scottish Enterprise, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, Crown Estate and the former DECC.

The scheme has been boosted with £23 Million funding to help in the site's development.

Investors hope the project will be expanded to 269 turbines. Completed turbines will be transported by sea from the Nigg Energy Park, Cromarty Firth to the site in the inner sound.

Environmental groups are very pleased with current progress at the site. WWF Scotland's Director Lang Banks had this to say:

"News of the first electricity to come from what will hopefully become one of the world's largest tidal power schemes is a really exciting moment. Well done to all those involved."

He added:

"Coming only a few months after turbines off Shetland generated their first power, it's a sign that Scotland is really starting to make progress in harnessing the power of our seas."

The initial installation will yield 6MW of power. A further expansion will see another 6MW installation. This phase is planned for next year. It will benefit from a 17 Million Euro grant from the EC's NER 300 fund. This fund was established specifically to find carbon capture and renewable energy projects.

The "MeyGen" site has been leased by the Crown Estate to Atlantis since 2010 on a 25-year lease. The onshore power conversion equipment and grid connections are leased from a private owner.

atlantis-ar1500Atlantis AR1500 Turbine [Image Source: Atlantis Resources Press Release]

How it works

The following video clip explains how the Atlantis Resources "AR 1500" works:-


Several other sites are proposed off the coast of Scotland for similar installations. These are yet to gain funding from the EC NER 300 program.

Tandomed with wind power generation Scotland's renewable energy future seems set to provide a significant amount of power generation for the country over the following years. There have been similar proposals, though a different application, for the Severn Estuary between Wales and England but ecological concerns, has constantly stalled the decision making for planning. Could the success of Scottish installations break the deadlock? Only the time will tell.

The Severn tidal barrage stretching from Cardiff to Weston-super-Mare could alone generate about 5 percent of the UK's annual electricity requirements.

SEE ALSO:  This Smart Turbine can Power Your Home

Featured image courtesy of Pixabay.

Via BBC Ars Technica

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