THE race to develop Scotland's seas into the "Saudi Arabia of marine power" is about to start, with plans for 500 underwater turbines in the Pentland Firth.
The Scotsman can reveal that an Australian company is already preparing a serious bid for the huge tidal farm that it says will power one million homes.
Atlantis Resources wants to be the first to take advantage of an imminent decision by the Crown Estate, which owns the seabed, to invite firms to build in the powerful seas off the north coast.
Tides are powerful, and unlike wind, predictable as clockwork. Added bonus, the turbines are underwater, therefore not visible and taking up scarce land resources like wind turbines and vast solar panel arrays.
Not everyone is convinced. In fact, some claim it is a giant hoax:
Dr Tony Trapp, whose company built one of the first tidal devices, told The Scotsman the issue of renewable energy was based on "faith not science". He said four companies in the UK that had tried to develop tidal energy had still not achieved any output.
"It has completely conned the politicians from all parties and the worst people who are being conned are in Scotland," he said. "They've been conned hugely."
However, an Austrailian firm has had a functioning turbine operating for two years:
Atlantis Resources, which has been developing tidal devices for a decade, has built two turbine types, Nureus and Solon.
Nureus is suitable for shallow water up to 25 metres deep and has been generating electricity in a test site in Australia for two years. It uses aquafoils to capture momentum from the flow of water, to drive a massive chain, which generates electricity.
Solon is a deep-water turbine suitable for installation in some of the world's fastest waters, in depths of at least 40 metres.
Now I don't know a thing about Dr. Trapp, but I may be hearing a little "if I can't do it, it can't be done" in his protest.
Anyway, reading through the article, the technology available right now seems to need some rather particular tidal conditions, and Scotland seems to have them:
It is this water, with its extremely powerful tides, that gives Scotland its reputation as having the best tidal resources in Europe, with 80 per cent of the UK potential. It has been calculated that at least a third of Scotland's energy demand could be met by tidal renewables.
I would imagine, given our length of coastline, we'd be able to identify similar areas there. Seems, given the technology available, we could be looking at this right now as one alternative to our coming electricity demand problem.
Timothy Cornelius, chief executive, hopes these will be installed by 2011, and will be used to power a computer data centre near Castle of Mey in Caithness.
This, he hopes, will lead to a far larger tidal farm, of 500 turbines. "The reality is that, if there's the political will to assist developers like us, the technology is now in a state where people are willing to make this industry a real reality," he said.
"We are incredibly confident in our technology. We have built and tested many large-scale turbines to get where we are." Close to the Pentland Firth in the Fall of Warness off the island of Eday in Orkney, is the European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC), a first-of-its-kind facility where prototype devices can be tested.
In May, Irish company OpenHydro, which had been testing its prototype at EMEC, became the first company to success-fully connect a tidal device to the UK grid.
Neil Kermode, managing director at the EMEC, thinks that by 2020 the Pentland Firth could be teeming with tidal energy devices. "By then we will have worked out how to do this in a way that's cost-effective and we will look back in wonder at the time we hadn't bothered to access it," he said.
"There's an epic amount of power in there and I think our grandchildren will ask why we hadn't used it earlier."
And it will be a completely valid question.
UPDATE: Tom Scott provides us with an answer (pdf). Apparently there are 6 sites on the US coastline (or near it) which might be used for such projects:
The massive 30-foot tides of Alaska’s Cook Inlet and the resulting ebb and flow of powerful tidal currents break up sea ice, shorten ship transit times in the inlet and provide an unforgettable spectacle for tourists. But could these tides also become a significant electrical energy generator for the state?
At least three companies see Alaska tidal energy power generation as a possibility within the next few years.
Of course they will face many of the same constraints/problems on-shore proposals for windfarms and solar arrays will face:
And in a report published in June, the Electric Power Research Institute (commonly known as EPRI), a California-based non-profit research organization, estimated that the tidal currents in Knik Arm could generate an average of 116 megawatts of electrical power, although environmental constraints would probably limit the output to about 17 megawatts.
As experience leads to further technological refinement and efficiency, you could probably expect resultant increases in output. The document from which these cites come also has a map showing the 6 areas which are considered, at this time and the present technology, to be the most likely for tidal power generation.
Funny this should come up. I was just going over some old snaps of a recent... (Well, come to think of it, 10 years ago isn’t so recent) visit to the Bay of Fundy and wonder if they could do something similar. The tides they have there are legendary, and are supposedly the highest tides in the world. Check the pics for an idea of just how massive the tides are.
If you look at these pics, you’ll see Hopewell Rocks, which are one of the tourist traps there. Watch the pics in the header switch from high to low tide. I’ve stood on that beach, twice in my life. It’s amazing to me how little changed over the 35 or so years between visits. You stand on the beach and look UP at where the water was.
There is some power to be had there, of course. Then, too, and again of course, the environmental whackos will be in full cry a half second after this stuff gets suggested, no matter where you put them.
I have often thought that the Niagara Power project... just a an hour down the road from me here... would never be able to be completed today, for that same reason.
I lived in Alaska from 1977-2004. There was always on again-off again discussions of turbines to harness the tidal energy of Cook Inlet. At Anchorage Cook Inlet divides into two arms. Knik arm and Turnagain arm. (See photo) These arms supposedly have the second highest tides in the world. They also have bore tides. Tides that come in so quickly they form a mini-tidal wave. Bore tides are not a daily occurance and they happen when the difference between low tide and high tide is approximately 27 feet. The problems, as I remember them, were the extreme shallowness of the two arms, which would require turbines set in bridges, and the instability of the silt based soil. The silt would also be a problem for the turbines.
The Economist had an article concerning the technology in one of their quarterly technological reviews. The article certainly painted the picture of a potential source of power, but if I recall correctly it also noted that Britain had put quite a bit of money into researching various techniques of harnessing tidal energy, and nothing viable had come of it yet.
My slightly veiled point, though, is how many of these potential sources, of whatever type, and location, Nukes, tidal, wind, etc... all of them... will invariably land in the court system. None will survive the Environmentalists. A look at the fight that occurs with ostensibly clean power of wind turbines every time some are proposed for a given area, is exemplary.
Tidal power generating stations will each require billions in environmental impact studies, and in red tape... effectively preventing their construction.
And until the environmental movement is dealt with... (and I think in the end, force will be required) how can we ever overcome power shortages?
Within the last decade there was a functional underwater turbine in Scandanavia (cannot find the link anymore). It harnessed the power of the tides, cost millions to build and maintain, and IIRC it generated enough electricity to power less than 50 homes.
The City of San Francisco wanted to put tidal turbines under the Golden Gate. Turns out that its power would cost 20 times or more what nuclear was going for and 10 times market prices. Flow was partially tidal and partially the results of the huge watershed flowing to sea (40% of California).
For strictly TIDAL water flows, the intermittency of the current means the installation makes power when the moon is right, not when you or I need it. That means that you have to buy a regular power plant anyway and the only cost savings is the fuel costs of the regular fossil or nuclear plant that could turn down output when the tides are flowing.
Like most "alternative" power ideas, they remain alternative whenever put up against real world issues like customer demand and economics.
Those plans of Alaska Tidal Energy in the linked article are so nebulous as to be meaningless. They don’t know where they will put the generators, or how many turbines of some type not as yet designed they will have, or where the electricity will go when it is produced, all of which must be done beforeany serious environmental studies are done. Like nuclear fusion, tidal power generation has been proposed and studied for many years. I ain’t holding my breath. Any investment in this is a long term extremely speculative one. Solar and wind have more developed technologies and they are still marginal.