Alstom Tidal Turbine Turns On The Juice

The multinational Alstom is a big enough player that its work in the nascent tidal energy field bears watching – it’s the sort of company that could see a new design right through to commercialization. And here’s the latest: Alstom said on Monday that its 1-megawatt horizontal-axis tidal turbine produced electricity at a hookup at the grid-connected European Marine Energy Centre in Orkney, Scotland.

This turbine, an upsized version of a 500-kilowatt device previously tested, was conceived by the company Tidal Generation, which Alstom acquired from Rolls Royce.

alstom tidal turbine

Preparing for installation at the tidal test center in Orkney (image via Alstom)

“The first generation from the 1MW turbine is a major milestone as we move forwards in commercialising the technology and continuing to learn about the marine environment in preparation for commercial tenders in France and the UK,” Rob Stevenson, vice-president of Alstom Ocean, said in a statement.

The Alstom turbine looks a lot like the big wind turbines (something Alstom knows) that are churning out power around the world. With a rotor diameter of 18 meters, it was installed on a tripod structure at a depth of 40 meters at the EMEC tidal test site in January.

Alstom said the turbine offers three notable features:

First, it is simple, and easy to transport. Its buoyancy means that it is easily installed and retrieved in a single tidal cycle using small vessels, reducing installation and maintenance costs. Secondly, it has an intelligent nacelle. Thrusters rotate the nacelle to reflect the direction of the tide, managing ebb and flood tides seamlessly as well as maximising energy production. Thirdly, with its efficient blades, turbine blade pitching can be altered to control load on the turbine and optimise use of the tidal conditions locally.

Alstom said “(d)etailed testing and analysis in different operational conditions off Orkney will continue throughout 2013 over an 18 month period, in order to further improve tidal power technology.”

The Alstom news came just a few days after Scotland, through the national government and a regional community development agency, said it would pump £4.1 million ($6.2 million) into the European Marine Energy Centre. EMEC will get £3 million for a new grid-connected testing berth, with the rest of the money going toward a project that the center will lead “to develop the potential of support vessels used in the marine industry around Orkney and the Pentland Firth.”

The industry group RenewableUK welcomed the news, saying the investment “will help to accelerate growth and generate further private investment in the wave and tidal sector.”

The EMEC is the granddaddy of marine-power test centers. It has 14 full-scale grid-connected test berths and claims to be “home to some of the most innovative marine energy devices currently in development, with more full-scale devices having been tested at EMEC than at any other single site in the world.” The U.S. is just beginning efforts to build a similar test center off the Oregon coast.

Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.