Scotrenewables Tidal Power’s 2 megawatt (MW) floating tidal stream turbine has set yet another record, posting over 3 gigawatt-hours (GWh) of renewable electricity generation in its first year of testing at the European Marine Energy Centre in Orkney, Scotland — more power than that which was generated by the country’s entire wave and tidal energy sectors in the previous 12 years.
Scotrenewables’ 2 MW SR2000 has been operating continuously for over 12 months now, and despite operating through some of the worst winter storms in recent years, has supplied the equivalent annual electricity demand of approximately 830 UK households and, at times throughout the past year, supplied over 25% of the electricity demand of the Orkney Islands.
The news comes just over a month after SIMEC Atlantis Energy announced that its 6 MW MeyGen tidal stream array has generated over 8 GWh to the grid, including a world-record 1.4 GWh in a single month this year. Together, the two projects, both located in Scotland — one in the Orkney Islands and the other in the nearby Pentland Firth — are demonstrating the significant potential of tidal power and its near-term market readiness. They are test projects more than commercial outfits.
“The SR2000’s phenomenal performance has set a new benchmark for the tidal industry,” said Andrew Scott, Chief Executive Officer of Scotrenewables Tidal Power. “Despite being an R&D project, and it being our first full scale turbine, its first year of testing has delivered a performance level approaching that of widely deployed mature renewable technologies.”
The capacity factor of the project appears to be a bit under 20%, which is presumably what Scott is referring to since that is near the commercial average for solar power. On the other hand, cost is not mentioned and solar and wind power costs have reached extremely low cost-per-kWh levels that tidal power would likely have a difficult time competing with except in highly niche cases or locations. Nonetheless, as a supplement to solar and wind, a maturing tidal energy sector is a positive sign.
“The ability to easily access the SR2000 for routine maintenance has been a significant factor in our ability to generate electricity at such levels over the past 12 months, including over winter. In addition, accessing the SR2000 using ‘RIBs’ and other similar types of low-cost vessel means that our operating costs and outage times are kept to a minimum.”
Scotrenewables is moving towards commercial production of a 2 MW unit later this year, with support from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 scheme.
“The SR2000 has completed the job of demonstrating that we have a breakthrough technology and we will now be shifting all our focus and resources towards building on that success with a product which we are confident can enable a new industry created around a predictable renewable energy source,” Scott added.
“As we transition to a wholly renewable electricity system, it’s really important that we have a diversity of renewable electricity sources,” said Gina Hanrahan, acting head of policy at WWF Scotland. “We’ve seen huge growth in onshore wind and offshore wind over recent years and it’s great to see new tidal technologies now hitting new milestones.”
“This milestone for the tidal energy industry truly demonstrates the untapped potential of this emerging sector,” added Hannah Smith, Senior Policy Manager at trade body Scottish Renewables.
“Scotland’s remarkable marine energy resource has placed us front and centre in developing this industry with global potential.
“Scotrenewables’ technology has generated more power in its first year than Scotland’s entire wave and tidal sector produced before it. This remarkable achievement paves the way for marine energy to become a mainstream part of Scotland’s energy mix while cutting carbon, and delivering jobs and investment to our remote communities.
“To keep driving progress it’s critical that both Scottish and UK governments recognise the potential of these technologies and work with industry to fully commercialise these innovations,” Smith added.
This last point is especially important, considering that wave and tidal power — though tidal is quickly cementing itself as the marine power leader — must compete with offshore wind energy to acquire Contracts for Difference from the UK Government, a difficult place for any new and emerging technology to be. While offshore wind is not yet the powerhouse its onshore counterpart is, it is nevertheless well and truly beyond where marine power is.
As such, unless a better support mechanism is put in place to give marine power technologies like tidal stream a chance, developers based in the UK will need to start looking overseas to find customers.
This article has been updated to add more context.