The floating tidal stream turbine off the coast of Scotland has proven that it can produce electricity safely and cheaply year round.
Of the various renewable energy sources, tidal and wave power get less attention and fewer investments than many others. This is because of the inherent risk of any energy generating technology that has to operate in the brutal environment of the sea. Between the wear and tear from waves, the corrosive nature of saltwater and the inaccessibility of something installed offshore, the odds are often stacked against a technology before it can really get started.
So why do we keep trying? Because the potential energy from these sources could easily power the world if technologies are successful and seeing as a majority of the world's population lives with 60 miles of a coast, it puts electricity close to where it will be used.A tidal power project called FloTEC believes that it has solved many of the problems that have faced the industry before. Its pilot SR2000 turbine is the most powerful tidal stream turbine to date and it has just finished a full year at sea continually generating electricity.
The project leaders have a goal of creating tidal power systems that are low cost, low risk and reliable and with the SR2000 turbine they've proven that this is achievable. The 2-MW turbine has been stationed off the Orkney Islands since last summer and in that time has generated 3 GWh of energy, that's equivalent to the annual electricity needs of 830 British households and is more power than has been produced by all wave and tidal energy projects in Scotland in the past 12 years.
The turbine has been feeding electricity to the Orkney Islands' grid and has supplied more than a quarter of their power needs over the year.
The turbine, which looks like a large yellow submarine, was able to weather the harsh fall and winter storms typical of the area and withstood waves over 7 meters in height. It was able to maintain continuous generation in waves 4 meters high. The team says that the improved performance over other tidal systems was thanks to bigger, more robust rotors that were able to generate energy at lower speeds.
The FloTEC project was able to keep costs down because the SR2000 was easy to access for maintenance using inexpensive rigid inflatable boats which kept costs down and also keep outages to a minimum. The crew has plans to construct a 2 MW commercial version of the SR2000 after this year's successful pilot. It should be ready by the end of the year and will be tested off Orkney before hitting the market.