by Erin Larsen
In the northeast-most corner of Scotland sits the future site of the world’s largest array of tidal turbines, undersea windmills turned by the waters. As the race to develop alternatives to fossil fuels continues to accelerate, ocean energy is a clean-tech holy grail. Now, with Scotland’s estimated $1.5 billion MeyGen turbine project under way, the promise of tidal energy has never been closer.
Once all the undersea cables are laid, substations are built, and 269 turbines are put in place, MeyGen will have a production capacity of 400 megawatts of power – enough to power 175,000 homes. The project is being overseen by Atlantis Resources.
Advocates of tidal turbines highlight how the technology avoids much of the public backlash against wind turbines by being underwater and out-of-sight. The density of water, which is 800 times denser than air, gives more push to the blades than wind turbines. Tides are also predictable, unlike solar and other renewables that encounter intermittent generation.
Tidal power is already being put to the test in France and Korea with man-made lagoons; differences in height inside and outside the lagoons are exploited to generate power. Another project is under way in Wales, with the first $1.5 billion lagoon planned for the town of Swansea.
Wave power technologies are more experimental than tidal technologies and best practices are still being established. Some wave power technologies are snake-like, using an up-and-down motion to move pistons, which in turn spin turbines. Other technologies use swinging flaps to generate power from waves.
Two years ago, wave and tidal technologies development prospects were equal. But since then, the trajectory of the two segments of the ocean industry have taken different paths. Neil Kermode, the operator of a tidal research center in the Orkney Islands explains that last year, the wave sector saw a “stutter in confidence”. Many projects failed to reach the commercial stage prior to financing drying up.
Despite market trends, Atlantis Resources, the developer behind MeyGen, has been bullish on tidal technology. Low oil prices paired with production cutbacks in the nearby North Sea have benefited the project. Utilizing the existing knowledge bases and supply chains, Atlantis Resources has been able to pick up unemployed oil workers as well as downstream equipment no longer needed for oil.
Still, a $1.5 billion hurdle must be overcome for the MeyGen project to get up and running. Atlantis Resources is betting that it can overcome rough seas, shifting sands, high R&D expenditures, and the challenge of moving the power onshore. Atlantis says it expects the MeyGen project to begin generating power to the grid in 2016. If successful, this project will advance Scotland’s goal of producing enough renewable energy by 2020 to satisfy all of its energy demands.
Cassie Werber. “The latest innovation in renewable energy is an army of huge, sunken turbines in Scotland’s wild seas.” Quartz.com. Department of Energy, 12 Feb. 2016.
“The latest innovation in renewable energy is an army of huge, sunken turbines in Scotland’s wild seas” (http://qz.com/614345/the-latest-innovation-in-renewable-energy-is-an-army-of-huge-sunken-turbines-in-scotlands-wild-seas/ )