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Energy update: Rising tide

A project in Orkney is gearing up to supply the grid. Richard Higgins reports. 

Another tidal-power project has been launched in Scottish waters to supply renewable energy that is more predictable than wind or solar. 

The O2, the world’s most powerful tidal turbine,  is currently installed and generating power at the Fall of Warness tidal test site of the European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC)after a two-day voyage under tow from the Port of Dundee. 

The 74m-long turbine is expected to operate for the next 15 years with the capacity to meet the annual electricity demand of around 2,000 UK homes with clean, predictable power from the fast-flowing waters. 

This month the UK Government pledged to invest £20m a year in ‘tidal stream’ electricity as part of its renewable-energy auction scheme. Ministers expect this to bring jobs across the UK. 

The O2 is the result of more than 15 years’ product development and testing by Orbital Marine Power. The engineering company intends to commercialise its technology now that the O2 is up and running. 

Moored by anchors, the floating platform uses underwater rotors to capture dense, flowing energy below the surface – tidal speeds at EMEC can exceed 3 metres per second. 

Orbital is to lead a pan-European consortium to deliver the EU grant-supported €26.7m FORWARD-2030 project with the goal of developing an energy system combining floating tidal energy, wind generation, grid export, battery storage and green hydrogen production.

Oliver Wragg, Orbital’s Commercial Director, said: “This endorsement of the Orbital technology by the European Commission is a huge vote of confidence in our capability to deliver commercially viable tidal energy. Orbital has consistently delivered step changes in cost reduction for the tidal energy sector and the FORWARD-2030 project will enable us to take that next step.”

Speaking in April, Alistair Carmichael, MP for Orkney and Shetland, said: “The arrival of the O2 turbine in Orkney is a milestone in the expansion of marine renewables in the isles. The Northern Isles have enormous potential to lead the world in tidal energy.”

Strong, consistent currents and a long coast make Scotland ideal for tidal power but the technology has had a bumpy ride in Scotland. Two successive versions of the Pelamis Wave Power ‘snake’ device were trialled at EMEC’s Billia Croo test site, becoming the world’s first offshore wave power converter to successfully generate electricity into a national grid. The initiative stalled when Pelamis went into administration in 2014.

Meanwhile MeyGen, expected to be the world's largest tidal energy plant, is generating electricity using four 15MW turbines with 16m rotor diameter turbines on the seabed in the Pentland Firth. The company behind the project, Simec Atlantis Energy, plans to increase generation to 86MW in the coming years.