Commercial scale tidal energy comes of age in NW Europe

21st February 2013

Two new tidal energy schemes in Wales and Northern Ireland will showcase a novel technology that is being seen by many as the way forward for this form of renewable energy generation. Sean Ottewell reports

Plans to install the world’s first commercial scale tidal energy system in Northern Ireland’s Strangford Lough have been published by English tidal energy company Marine Current Turbines (MCT). 

The company is targeting the installation of its 1.2MW SeaGen tidal system for the first quarter of 2008. When fully deployed in the Lough and connected to the local grid, the system will generate enough electricity for 1000 homes. 

At 1.2MW capacity, SeaGen is the world’s largest tidal current device by a significant margin and is considered a prototype for commercial technology that will be replicated on a large scale over the next few years (Fig.1). 

The method of installing the SeaGen device in Strangford Lough has been adapted to enable it to be deployed by a crane barge rather than a larger jack-up vessel. SeaGen will be installed by the crane barge Rambiz, operated by the Belgium company Scaldis, and overseen by MCT’s own in-house engineering team in partnership with SeaRoc, a leading firm of marine engineering consultants. 

The exercise, which will take up to 14days, was scheduled to start towards the end of March, when the Rambiz barge sails with SeaGen loaded on board from Belfast to Strangford Lough. 

The additional fabrication engineering work on SeaGen has been carried out by Scottish firm Burntisland Fabrications and the final phase of the engineering assembly and mobilisation activity will be undertaken by Harland & Wolff in Belfast (Fig. 2) before being collected by the Rambiz barge. 

Once installed and during the 12week commissioning phase, a team of environmental scientists from Royal Haskoning, Queen’s University Belfast and St Andrew’s Sea Mammal Research Unit will be in Strangford Lough to closely monitor SeaGen’s operation and its interaction with marine life. 

The UK Government’s Department of Business, Enterprise & Regulatory Reform (BERR) has provided valuable support to the SeaGen project. MCT has received grant assistance from BERR for the main part of the project’s development and has received a further £980000 (E1.3m) investment from the government-funded Technology Strategy Board to cover the additional installation costs and independent performance validation. 

MCT md Martin Wright said: “We have carried out extensive engineering and environmental studies to ensure the very best means of installation and operation. As long as the weather is good and there are no last minute operational issues to contend with, we should have SeaGen deployed by the end of March. There is global interest in SeaGen as it will be the first and largest commercial tidal stream device to be installed anywhere in the world, and so we can expect its installation to be a springboard for the further development of the marine energy industry in the UK and the island of Ireland. Looking ahead, MCT intends to manufacture and deploy a series of SeaGen devices in projects off Anglesey and on the Canadian seaboard within the next 2–4years.” 

As EPE went to press, the announcement had been made about the world’s first commercial-scale tidal stream projects, off the coast of Anglesey in North Wales. According to MCT, this exciting and innovative showcase tidal farm scheme would be capable of generating 10.5MW of clean, green power, drawn entirely from the sea’s major tidal currents. 

Npower renewables and MCT will take forward the project through a newly created development company, SeaGen Wales. Subject to successful planning consent and financing, the tidal farm could be commissioned as early as 2011 or 2012. 

Wright said: “npower renewables’ extensive experience in developing offshore renewable projects in the UK and Europe will be hugely valuable in taking forward the Anglesey project. Their involvement in SeaGen Wales highlights the very real potential that decentralised tidal energy can make to the UK energy mix. It is also a significant step in commercialising the technology to not only deliver the country's carbon reduction targets, but also opens up new opportunities for our SeaGen technology to be deployed in other parts of the world.” 

Pat Cowling, npower renewables md, said: “We are absolutely delighted to have signed this agreement which positions us, with MCT, at the forefront nationally and globally, of commercial tidal stream energy generation. Tidal stream may be a young technology, but we are convinced by the results of MCT’s work to date, that this is a technology with the potential to make a valuable contribution to UK renewable energy supplies, and the battle against climate change.” 

News of the deal came less than a week after the launch of npower renewables’ new parent company, RWE Innogy, which has pooled all of RWE’s renewable energy activities across Europe. The new company has made strong commitments to investing in renewable energy schemes and expanding its portfolio. 

Cowling added: “npower renewables’ collaboration with MCT demonstrates RWE Innogy’s commitment to exploring more technologically innovative energy options for the future, as well as continuing to develop our existing and well proven wind and hydro portfolios around the UK.”

Working in collaboration with MCT, npower renewables, the leading UK renewable energy developer and operator, will take the new tidal stream project forward, initially through the consenting stages and with options to extend the partnership further. 

It is proposed that the tidal stream project be sited in an area of 25metre deep open sea known as the Skerries, off the north-west coast of Anglesey, north Wales. The scheme will consist of seven 1.5MW SeaGen turbines, each likely to stand approximately nine metres above sea level. Previous independent scoping studies have identified the Skerries as an ideal location for a tidal stream project, due to its favourable tidal conditions and natural shelter. 

The location benefits from good port facilities at Holyhead nearby, proximity to the National Grid facilitating good connection, and good transport links and access, to facilitate construction and maintenance. 

Development of the site will start with a full assessment and detailed surveys of the environment and tidal resources, followed by preparation of an outline scheme incorporating the studies' outcomes. 

Studies are about to get started and will last throughout 2008, with a consent application likely to be submitted in mid 2009. Construction and commissioning timescales will be subject to the length of the planning process, but it is anticipated this could take place between 2011 and 2012. 

Full consultation will be undertaken with local communities and other relevant stakeholders ahead of any planning application, and all issues raised during the consultation will be fed back into the design process prior to a final consent application.


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