Tidal power offers the promise of clean electricity at reliable rates and has a lower impact on the landscape or wildlife than offshore or onshore wind farms; unlike wind, output is predictable years in advance.
In August, Pilita Clark, the FT’s Environment Correspondent, reported that a Scottish company Nova Innovation, chaired by Ian Marchant formerly the CEO of Scottish and Southern Energy plc, had announced that it is successfully delivering power to the national grid from a tidal turbine system in the Shetland Islands. It is said to be the first offshore tidal array in the world to do so.
Nova is developing the project in the Bluemull Sound, between the Shetland islands of Yell and Unst, with Belgian renewable energy group Elsa, who encouraged European investors to put in £1.85m. Nova installed its first M-100 turbine in the Bluemull Sound, Shetland in March this year.
It has now successfully connected a second turbine and the total value of the project, which is due to get another three turbines by the end of next year, is £3.6m. Once finished it will supply enough electricity for about 300 houses. Founded in 2010, Nova also installed the world’s first community-owned tidal energy device in 2014, powering about 30 homes, a locally-owned ice plant and industrial area.
In a September FT article, Mure Dickie reports on the first phase of MeyGen, a larger tidal power scheme developed by Australia’s Atlantis, which plans to spend nearly £500m in tidal power in Scotland over the next two years. It has installed one of four turbines with a combined output capacity of 6MW.
The project in the Pentland Firth between the Scottish mainland and the Orkney Islands still faces challenges. The currents complicate installation of the turbines, each of which requires more than 1,000 tonnes for their structure and ballast. Most work on the undersea site is limited to short periods of slack in the current, particular during smaller “neap tides” twice a month. “The kit has to be incredibly robust in order to survive a subsea tidal environment,” said Dave Rigg, Atlantis’s head of engineering services. “If you can imagine 40 metres of water flowing at nearly 15 miles per hour — that creates huge loads.”
“Britain lost wind turbine manufacturing [and] Britain lost nuclear manufacturing, but it can own tidal” – Cornelius
Less than a decade ago, Timothy Cornelius, the head of the tidal-power venture Atlantis Resources, struggled to get investors and regulators to return his calls. Now, as he formally unveils the world’s largest tidal-stream project under construction, he can hardly fend them off. Though at present the turbines are constructed abroad, Atlantis hopes to be able to firm up plans for at least 50 turbines next year, enough to turn Nigg into a centre for fabricating, assembling and testing.
Common Space reports that WWF Scotland director Lang Banks said: “With some of the most powerful tides in Europe, Scotland is well placed to lead in developing this promising technology, which will help to cut climate emissions and create green jobs right across the country”. He added:
“How big a role tidal power will play in our future energy depends on the ambitions of our politicians today. The Scottish Government’s forthcoming energy strategy provides the perfect opportunity to set out a bold vision for how we could become Europe’s fully renewable electricity nation by 2030, ensuring that we secure the maximum economic and social benefits that will arise from a shift toward a zero-carbon economy.”