Money Flows To A Big Tidal Energy Project

With real money now getting behind it, in-stream tidal power might actually get a chance to prove itself on a large scale, in Scotland.

Atlantis Resources last week raised a big wad of cash – $33 million in all – to advance the planned MeyGen project, which aims to put an array of power-generating wind-turbine-like devices on the seabed of the Pentland Firth, the strait that connects the Atlantic Ocean and the North Sea and separates the Scottish mainland from the Orkney Islands.

tidal power scotland

The 1-megawatt AR1000 tidal stream turbine (image via Atlantic Resources)

The project has so far been consented for 86 megawatts, which though modest by large-scale energy generation standards is the largest tidal stream project ever approved. But MeyGen is aiming ultimately to beef up to a capacity of 398 MW. Researchers from the universities of Oxford and Edinburgh recently asserted that the Pentland Firth offers as much as 4.2 gigawatts of power, with 1.9 GW a realistic target.

Morgan Stanley has 4o-percent-plus stake in Atlantis, which probably didn’t hurt in its offering of 12.8 million shares last week. The IPO raised around $20 million on the London Alternative Investment Market. Then came grant funding from the European Commission, to the tune of $13 million.

“(The) EC funding announcement caps an exciting, and extremely busy, few months for Atlantis Resources,” CEO Tim Cornelius said in a statement. “Taken with the £12 million that we have raised through IPO, this grant means that the business is in a strong financial position to deliver its projects. The capital raised through IPO will go towards the delivery of the first stage of MeyGen, but will also fund the detailed design of the AR1500 turbine with Lockheed Martin and our AR1000 demonstrator project in China.”

Atlantis has said it could begin installation of six turbines this year, with power coming ashore by in 2015.

About the turbine: The company in 2011 tested its 1-MW AR1000 device at the European Marine Energy Centre, “the first tidal current device to be synchronized to the grid in Scotland,” it says. The AR1000 has fixed-pitch blades and can only be rotated to adjust to the changing tidal flow during slack tide periods, then locked into place. This is the turbine the company says it will deploy this year at a grid-connected demonstration project in Daishan China.

The AR1500 that Cornelius mentioned in his statement is supposed to come with pitching blades and full nacelle yaw rotation. Ultimately, at least, this appears to be the preferred device for the Pentland Firth, with its strong flows. Here’s a short animation of how the turbine would operate:

MeyGen and in-stream turbines represent one of two major methods that are talked about for taking advantage of tidal power. The others is the dam-like “barrage” method, as at the 240-megawatt capacity La Rance Barrage in France. It has operated since 1967, and now averages about 68 megawatts of output. That said, the expense and profound environmental impact of the project have seemingly made future barrage projects unlikely, though proposals do pop up.

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.