Tidal energy growth and opportunities

Published 28 July 2014

Engineering Technology Manager Andrew Macdonald gives his take on the current developments in the UK’s tidal energy sector, and the growth and opportunities for the future. 

With several 1MW tidal turbines now running autonomously at the EMEC test site in Orkney, the marine renewables industry spotlight is firmly focussed on achieving financial close on the first multi-megawatt tidal arrays.  But whilst these large projects are the key to demonstrating the potential viability of commercial arrays, it is easy to overlook the significant progress being made by the growing group of turbine manufacturers that believe that the best way forward is to develop and demonstrate devices at 100kW and less before growing to larger scale.

This approach keeps early development costs low and allows more iterations of technology to take place in a shorter timescale.  The summer of 2014 will see the first significant tests of this approach with deployments from Nova Innovation, Nautricity, Tidal Energy Limited and Oceanflow Energy.

The increased diversity of turbine developers has been matched by increased diversity in project sites with new developments taking place for the first time in Shetland, Argyll and Wales.  The recent announcement by The Crown Estate for further demonstration leases with the involvement of locally-based organisations is another sign that the sector is growing in breadth and continuing to create new opportunities.

This pattern is being mirrored at an international level with a steady increase in activity in Europe (most notably in France) and in Canada.  The foundations built by the SI Ocean project and the progress by Ocean Energy Europe in the establishment of TP Ocean are raising the profile of Ocean energy through international collaborations. ORE Catapult is actively supporting this important initiative, sitting on the steering group and providing a resource to manage the set up of TO Ocean. In the case of Canada, the Memorandum of Understanding between the UK’s Technology Strategy Board (TSB) and Nova Scotia’s Offshore Energy Research Association (OERA) is designed to facilitate cooperation across the Atlantic.

The deployment of many more new devices, the increased geographical spread of tidal sites and the expansion of the international interest in ocean energy are all positive signs that the sector is continuing to grow even if it is not always how it had been expected.