Tidal turbine for Strangford Lough

A world first for Northern Ireland [Adds Apparently that depends on the definition of ‘commercial scale’]. The SeaGen tidal energy converter is the world’s first commercial scale tidal turbine and it’s being installed in Strangford Lough. Tom Rafterty has more here, although it’s worth pointing out that Marine Current Turbines have a number of corporate shareholders and strategic partners – company background here. Channel 4 report here, UTV has some video reports, and the Guardian’s coverage is here. Additionally, as the SeaGen project website notes,

The environmental impact of SeaGen will be continuously monitored by independent science team throughout the licensed 5 year installation period. The project is being managed by Royal Haskoning with Queens University Belfast and the Sea Mammal Research Unit providing the science input.

According to the Irish Times breaking news report

The operation to fix the turbine on the seabed is expected to take up to two weeks. It was due to begin yesterday but had to be postponed due to poor weather.

Adds Wikipedia notes the fore-runners of this project.

Trials in the Strait of Messina, Italy, started in 2001 and Australian company Tidal Energy Pty Ltd undertook successful commercial trials of highly efficient shrouded turbines on the Gold Coast, Queensland in 2002. Tidal Energy Pty Ltd has commenced a rollout of shrouded turbines for remote communities in Canada, Vietnam and Torres Strait in Australia and following up with joint ventures in the EU.

During 2003 a 300 kW Periodflow marine current propeller type turbine was tested off the coast of Devon, England, and a 150 kW oscillating hydroplane device, the Stingray, was tested off the Scottish coast. Another British device, the Hydro Venturi, is to be tested in San Francisco Bay.

Although still a prototype, the world’s first grid-connected turbine, generating 300 kW, started generation on November 13, 2003, in the Kvalsund, south of Hammerfest, Norway, with plans to install a further 19 turbines.

SeaGen, a commercial prototype design will be installed by Marine Current Turbines Ltd in Strangford Lough in Northern Ireland in March 2008. The turbine could generate up to 1.2 MW and will be connected to the grid.

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  • joeCanuck

    It’s simply not true that this is the world’s first commercial scale (whatever that means) tidal turbine. There are large numbers all around the world; e.g.
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/england/devon/2992996.stm
    It is the largest , however.

  • Pete Baker

    Joe

    That link is to the Marine Current Turbines’ Seaflow of which, even if they say so themselves

    “MCT installed the world’s first offshore tidal turbine near Lynmouth off the coast of Devon in May 2003 and is now installing the world’s first commercial scale tidal turbine, the 1.2 MW SeaGen, in Strangford Narrows in Northern Ireland. This is the forerunner for a commercial product soon to be widely deployed in the vital quest for clean energy from the oceans.”

  • Pete Baker

    Joe

    The distinction between the various projects is probably best made at Wikipedia, of all places,

    Trials in the Strait of Messina, Italy, started in 2001 and Australian company Tidal Energy Pty Ltd undertook successful commercial trials of highly efficient shrouded turbines on the Gold Coast, Queensland in 2002. Tidal Energy Pty Ltd has commenced a rollout of shrouded turbines for remote communities in Canada, Vietnam and Torres Strait in Australia and following up with joint ventures in the EU.

    During 2003 a 300 kW Periodflow marine current propeller type turbine was tested off the coast of Devon, England, and a 150 kW oscillating hydroplane device, the Stingray, was tested off the Scottish coast. Another British device, the Hydro Venturi, is to be tested in San Francisco Bay.

    Although still a prototype, the world’s first grid-connected turbine, generating 300 kW, started generation on November 13, 2003, in the Kvalsund, south of Hammerfest, Norway, with plans to install a further 19 turbines.

    SeaGen, a commercial prototype design will be installed by Marine Current Turbines Ltd in Strangford Lough in Northern Ireland in March 2008. The turbine could generate up to 1.2 MW and will be connected to the grid.

    I’ll update the post to take that into account.

  • joeCanuck

    Thanks Pete.
    The company was hyping it a bit for the publicity. Not a bad thing in itself if it raises awareness of another technique to reduce our carbon load.

  • “Wave energy research in Ireland was initiated at Queen’s University, Belfast (QUB) in 1975 following the invention by Professor Alan Wells of a self-rectifying turbine. This Well’s turbine always rotates in the same direction irrespective of the direction of input flow and provides an ideal method of electricity generation from a variable oscillatory flow, upon which principle the oscillating water column (OWC) wave energy device9 is based.

    The OWC consists of a large chamber enclosing a column of water which is forced to oscillate by wave action driving the air above through a turbine to generate electricity. The heart of the QUB device was an air turbine with special qualities: its rotor is driven in the same direction whether air is forced through it axially from one side or the other.”

    Well’s turbine supplying power in Islay

  • Comrade Stalin

    Before everyone gets excited, the power output of this thing at the projected peak of 1.2MW is, in fact, approximately 0.2% of the total peak power output of Ballylumford Power Station, and a fraction of that again of the total amount of power generaton capacity within NI. This is such a drop in the ocean (no pun intended) that it isn’t true.

    There’s very little mention of what people in the IT world call the TCO, or total cost of ownership. This thing is installed in a harsh environment full of salt water and very rough conditions. How often do you have to maintain it ? What parts wear out and require periodic replacing ? Based on that, what is the overall cost per kWh over a 30 year period ?

  • joeCanuck

    You have to start somewhere, Comrade. Doubt very much that this particular installation is economically justifiable, although I may be wrong.

  • Also worth pointing out that as well as being hit by rough weather this week, the Strangford installation was already postponed from last August.

  • The Raven

    Stalin, you’re absolutely right – all these wind turbines, and no-one ever thinks of how many gallons of fresh water is used in making steel.

    The impact of this on the flora and fauna will also need to be measured.

    But as Joe has rightly said too: we need to start somewhere. It’s like everything – the cost/benefit analysis will improve over time and at the end of the day, if we can ultimately generate 10% of our energy needs from this and other similar turbines – it can’t be a bad thing.

    We have to start somewhere.

  • NP

    We in Northern Ireland are already paying over the odds for electricity, compared to the rest of the UK, does this mean we also have to shoulder the cost of this “experiment” that doesn’t seem to justify the returns it offers ?

  • Comrade Stalin

    I am fully supportive of the need to use cleaner and more sustainable forms of electricity generation. What I am concerned about here is unscrupulous people hyping up overpriced and technically below-par solutions, and extracting large amounts of subsidy cash from the taxpayer to fund it.

    I see no significant advantage of these turbines over a regular, modern wind turbine; being out in the sea they must be considerably more expensive to maintain and operate. As far as I can see the only advantage is that they’re harder to see, although surely that is offset by the possible damage to marine life. I’m reduced to speculation here because the people behind this don’t seem to have been particularly upfront with information about the costs, and as usual our local politicians haven’t been asking the questions they should be asking.

  • Pete Baker

    “and extracting large amounts of subsidy cash from the taxpayer to fund it.”

    Except, Comrade, that the linked corporate shareholders [in the original post] show that this is largely a privately financed initiative.

  • Tom

    Re:Comrade Stalin. One big difference between wind turbines and tidal turbines relates to one of the key differences between the wind and the tide: one is predictable and the other is not.

    One of the big problems for replacing traditional electrical generating stations with alternative sources has been the problem of “baseload power.” A coal-fired plant or a nuclear reactor, for instance, will run perfectly according to a schedule, and will pump electricity into the mains at a constant rate to provide the background level of juice that keeps the whole grid running.

    Wind turbines generate a certain amount of electricity when they’re spinning fast, less when they’re spinning more slowly, and none at all when the wind stops. That means the electricity that they add to the grid comes in unpredictable fits and starts. Based on how our modern-day electrical grids are set up, it’s impossible for sporadic sources like that to contribute any more than a smallish portion of the overall power input. Now, very few places have hit that ceiling yet, but as a theoretical problem we simply can’t hope to ever get an entire electrical grid switched over to wind.

    The tides, however, are delightfully constant. Tidally-sourced power is completely predictable, so it’s entirely possible that this turbine’s distant descendant someday in the future would be providing baseload power and helping to replace Ballylumford. Efficiencies would need to go up by several orders of magnitude, absolutely, but that’s only going to happen with continued experimentation and improvement. And while its encouraging to see private investors involved, advanced R&D;has consistently been one of those things where state sponsorship is often essential. You certainly wouldn’t be using that computer you’re on today were it not for people “hyping up overpriced and technically below-par solutions, and extracting large amounts of subsidy cash from the taxpayer to fund it.” After all, sliding rulers and log tables were cheap and did the job fine.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Pete, I am aware of the fact that there is private capital going into this, but my concern is that the business case for those guys involves governments subsidizing the purchase, deployment and maintenance costs of the equipment when it is due to be deployed on a wider scale. This jobbie in Strangford Lough sounds like a loss leader.

    Tom, let me condense your contribution a bit.

    [Wind turbines will never provide base load power]

    Thanks, I knew that.

    [Tidal power by nature can provide base load power]

    I didn’t know that, so I appreciate the correction.

    [Eventually, tidal power will be able to replace large power stations]

    No they won’t, if they are not cost effective. Yes, we’re going to have to pay more for our power in the future in order to get away from fossil fuel. But value is going to be the key, and solutions like this are going to be up against stiff competition from alternatives such as nuclear.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Tom,

    You certainly wouldn’t be using that computer you’re on today were it not for people “hyping up overpriced and technically below-par solutions, and extracting large amounts of subsidy cash from the taxpayer to fund it.”

    Most if not all of the innovations incorporated in the modern computer were developed by the private sector, albeit paid for by military funds during the course of the Cold War. The Internet was, of course, a defense project originally. The transistor was developed by Bell Labs and the integrated circuit by Texas Instruments. I am not sure where you think you’re going with this one.

    After all, sliding rulers and log tables were cheap and did the job fine.

    What are you talking about ? Sliding rulers cannot process millions of transactions per second, store and log transaction data, or enable instant money or cash transactions around the world; and they certainly don’t allow people to communicate or interact remotely or play games. Was this supposed to be an analogy ?

  • The Raven

    “But value is going to be the key, and solutions like this are going to be up against stiff competition from alternatives such as nuclear.”

    Yes, value may indeed be A key. But until someone masters hydrogen as an accessible power source, alternative solutions are increasingly the only new solutions.

    Nuclear is not going to find a home on this island. Not after Windscale. Not even if it halved the cost of our power.

    Interesting point you made about the computers. Was it not Bill Clinton’s moratorium on taxing internet sales, that REALLY encouraged the take-off of the internet as a means of doing business, and therefore developed the proliferation of that thing they now call The Net?

    The public sector ALWAYS has a role in developing the conditions for business to take off. It doesn’t always back the right horses. But it needs to be there to stimulate the fledgling ideas.

    This is a serious issue. Energy needs are now potentially affecting food supplies.

    If we need to subsidise the development of tidal power until every tidal wash in this country has one, well…I can think of worse wastes of funding.