This week the world's first large scale, commercial tidal stream energy generator; SeaGen was installed at Strangford Loch in Northern Ireland. Furthermore Secretary of State, John Hutton approved planning permission for a prototype Pulse Generator in the Humber Estuary.
The Renewable Energy Centre announced its support of the projects and stated it was a positive step forward for tidal power industry in the light of recent focus by the government, on nuclear power.
The company behind SeaGen; Marine Current Turbines has been leading innovation in harnessing tidal power in the UK for many years and has received funding from both the government and nPower in order to reach this latest deployment. If the technology proves successful, a farm of seven SeaGen turbines will be installed off the coast of Anglesey in order to begin to tap into one of the most predictable forms of renewable energy available. Tidal power around the UK could provide from 10 to 20 percent of the UK's energy needs over the next decade which would significantly help to reduce the impact of carbon emissions and serve to help the government meet EU energy targets.
The Renewable Energy Centre said that projects such as these should be at the heart of the government's strategy to meet its energy targets. Marine power technology is cheaper and much quicker to install than other larger projects such as nuclear power or the much maligned Severn Barrage. Martin Wright, Managing Director at Marine Current Turbines said "SeaGen is a hugely exciting project as well as an historic achievement… Tidal energy has the great advantage of being predictable and no other system can harness the power of the tidal currents in the way this one can. We take great pride and see enormous potential in the technology and hope it will eventually make a significant contribution to the future energy needs of the British Isles, Ireland and beyond."
SeaGen works below the surface of the sea and has two 16m diameter rotors which will operate 18-20 hours per day. The rotation of the blades each drives a generator via a gear box and convey the energy to the national grid. One of the unique aspects of the technology is that the blades can be repositioned to capture both the ebb and flow of the tide therefore maximising the energy potential.
John Hutton also expressed how significant the project is for the future of the UK's energy targets saying "It is this sort of project which will help the UK meet our ambitious targets to increase the amount of energy from renewable sources." Despite this, The Renewable Energy Centre said Hutton still needed to press further forward in terms of research and investment in order to proactively establish tidal power as leading industry.
Hutton also announced yesterday the approval for a prototype Pulse Generator to be installed in the Humber estuary. Developed by Pulse Generation Ltd the product boasts 90% efficiency in mechanical transmission enabling the system to turn at a higher frequency. The Pulse Generator is also ideal for harnessing shallower tidal currents which means the systems will be closer to shore, easier to install and maintain and therefore more cost effective. The estimated energy supply from the prototype to the national grid will, it is estimated, provide electricity for about 70 homes but if installed commercially it could supply over 70,000 homes in the UK.
The Renewable Energy Centre stated that both of these projects were positive for the renewable energy sector and when proven could, within a short space of time, be operational at a commercial level. Richard Simmons, Managing Director at The Renewable Energy Centre said "It is about time we heard that the government is taking tidal power seriously and that it is making the news. I believe tidal power is one of the best untapped sources of renewable energy the UK has to offer and to ignore its full potential is foolish and short sighted. There is still a tremendous need for the government to invest further in both our grid infrastructure and research and development of the technology. The UK has the potential to be a global leader in this arena but the government has to provide support to the industry to achieve this.
The Renewable Energy Centre concluded by saying that tidal power technology although still in its infancy was now moving towards commercial independence and that projects such as SeaGen and the Pulse Generator would prove valid sources of clean, predictable renewable energy for the future.
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