First Commercial Scale Tidal Energy Turbine Installed
A big step towards the future of tidal power has been taken. The SeaGen tidal energy converter, an upside-down-windmill structure weighing over 1000 tons, has been successfully set into the water off of Northern Ireland's Strangford Lough by parent company Marine Current Turbines. Will Northern Ireland become the "Saudi Arabia of marine energy"? Or will the curse of the Titanic strike another behemoth emerging from the Belford docks?You may have been following this exciting project since its 1.2 megawatt marine power promise first glimmered on the horizon. The scale of this project, which can power 1140 households, puts it well beyond all other marine power forays, making it the largest marine power installation in the world, and the first commercial scale installation.
Experts estimate that up to a quarter of Britain's energy needs could be supplied by marine power, which has led to quotes like that of Professer Stephen Salter of Edinburgh University, suggesting that the channel between Orkney and the North Scottish mainland could be the "Saudi Arabia of marine energy".
But getting the SeaGen turbine tower out of the Belfast dock, where the Titanic was once built, has already suffered several setbacks. A delay due to commercial takeover of the company scheduled to install the unit and an accident involving the vessel intended to transport the tower preceded the bad weather which further delayed departure from the Belfast docks recently. SeaGen must be sighing in relief to see the tower in place.
The next obstacle: proving that this "clean technology" will not harm the sensitive wildlife, including seals, around Strangford Lough. The project includes funding for careful study of the impacts of the tidal turbine on marine mammals and the native ecosystems.
The SeaGen generates current as water pushes past slow-moving, windmill-like turbines which are stationed underwater. It is anticipated that this technology will have lower impact on the environment than proposals such as the Severn Barrage, where it is intended to interfere with the normal water flow by damming and releasing water. At the Strangford Lough, natural narrowing of the coastline results in accelerated flow of tidal waters, creating a naturally optimal location to harvest power. Hopefully, the environmental studies at the SeaGen unit will give the green light to full-speed-ahead development of this promising form of clean energy.