The recent launch of the UK’s first tidal turbine capable of producing commercial amounts of power has raised hope that the technology could soon produce a significant percentage of the UK’s power needs.
The 1.2MW SeaGen marine turbine is based in Strangford Lough, Northern Ireland.
Angela Robotham, engineering director at Marine Current Turbines (MCT), the company behind the scheme, said the site was chosen for a number for reasons. The stretch of water is sheltered helping installation and maintenance; it has one of the fastest tidal flows in the world; it is just 300 metres away from a connection to the grid; and the company wanted to prove that the technology would not harm wildlife. The area is a protected marine area.
Robotham said: Britain is blessed with a strong and large tidal resource. The Pentland Firth is the Holy Grail, and the Bristol Channel is too narrow at low-tide for the turbines to work. A depth of around 25 metres is needed for the turbine to work at maximum efficiency.
This project represents a prototype and it is hoped that this project will demonstrate that tidal energy is a viable alternative to nuclear, coal and wind. Robotham is hopeful that the government will invest in tidal energy as it has done with wind energy. She said: The reason the government is pushing wind energy is because the technology is thirty years old; it’s mature. She added that tidal energy is at the same stage of development now as wind power was 20 or so years ago.
Robotham believes that tidal energy would provide a much more consistent source of energy. She said: The wind does blow a lot more offshore than it does on land, but if a high-pressure area settles over the UK the wind will stop blowing. With the tides you can predict to the minute what they are going to do.
This new plant is capable of providing 1.2MW of energy to the UK grid and Robotham says there is potential along the entire coast of the UK to generate 18MW.
MCT announced on July 17 that SeaGen was operational and had fed enough electricity back into the national grid to power about 150 homes. The system is limited to 300kW during the testing phase.
MCT had planned to fully commission the SeaGen tidal energy system in late summer 2008, but the company announced in late July that two turbine blades had been damaged. The blades, located on the westernmost of the twin rotors, have been removed for inspection.
The company announced a full investigation into the cause of the incident, which it initially blamed on a computer fault in the control system affecting the operation of one of the two SeaGen 600kW turbines.
The damage was caused by a combination of circumstances that can only arise during the commissioning process and there is no implication that the SeaGen system design or its operational capabilities are in any way compromised, the company said in a statement.
SeaGen’s other rotor was not affected by the incident and continued to feed electricity into the national grid on a test basis. The incident has pushed the commissioning date back to autumn 2008.