World’s First Commercial-Scale Tidal Power Turbines

1 by Timothy Hurst

A narrow channel in Northern Ireland with notoriously strong marine currents is just a little closer to producing electricity with the world's first commercial-scale tidal power turbines. As was reported a couple weeks back by Maria Surma Manka at CleanTechnica, the massive structure, known as SeaGen, began its journey to the turbulent waters at the mouth of Strangford Lough. And as of 4AM local time on April 2, 2008, Marine Current Turbines safely lowered the 1000 ton structure onto the seabed between Strangford and Portaferry. The 1.2 megawatt tidal power turbine array is four times the size of any tidal power generator currently in operation. When fully operational later in the summer, its 16m diameter, twin rotors will operate for up to 18-20 hours per day to produce enough electricity to power about 1100 homes.

(Click here to see an excellent animation of the SeaGen turbines in action.)

The installation of the turbines is proving to be tricky. "I can promise you it's a pretty challenging environment, for the mariners and all the rest of it," said MCT's Martin Wright in an article at Cleantech.com. "And it's actually happening in the narrows, which is the entrance between the Irish Sea and the vast body of the Strangford Lough itself." Wright added, "It's a neck where you get these highly accelerated flows, and it's a heck of tide that runs through here. And that's what we're seeking to harvest."

This is a particularly important wildlife area, and so its operation will be closely monitored. Project developer, Marine Current Turbines has established a £2million program to closely monitor the environmental impact of the project, involving scientists from the Queen’s University Belfast and St Andrew’s University. The chief fear is that the turbines may threaten marine mammals such as seals, but scientists say that the turbines will turn too slowly, and that the animals are too nimble, for this to be a serious concern.

If all goes well, the company will then work on the next development, a "tidal farm" of seven SeaGen devices, together capable of generating 10.5MW, which it hopes will start operating by 2012.

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