A 680 ton tidal turbine, known as “the most powerful in the world”, has started on-grid power generation at the European Marine Energy Center in Orkney, an archipelago north of mainland Scotland.
The news marks another big step forward for the emerging UK marine energy sector.
In an announcement on Wednesday, Scottish engineering firm Orbital Marine Power explained how its 2 megawatt O2 turbine was anchored in a body of water called the Fall of Warness, with a submarine cable that connects it to a local power grid on land.
The 74-meter-long turbine is expected to “operate in Orkney waters for the next 15 years” and “have the capacity to meet the annual electricity needs of around 2,000 British households”.
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The turbine is also said to send power to a land-based electrolyser that produces something called green hydrogen. In a statement, Orbital Marine Power CEO Andrew Scott described Wednesday’s news as “an important milestone for the O2.”
Funding for the construction of O2 was provided by public lenders through Abundance Investment. The Scottish Government has also provided £ 3.4 million (approximately $ 4.72 million) in assistance through its Saltire Tidal Energy Challenge Fund.
Michael Matheson, the Scottish Government’s Cabinet Secretary for Net Zero, Energy and Transport, said his country was “ideally positioned to take advantage of the vast world market for ocean energy”.
“The deployment of Orbital Marine Power’s O2, the world’s most powerful tidal turbine, is a proud moment for Scotland and a major milestone on our journey to net zero,” he added.
Looking ahead, Orbital Marine Power said it is targeting commercialization of its technology through the use of multi-megawatt arrays.
With miles of coastline, the UK as a whole is home to a number of marine energy-related projects.
In April, it was announced that a year-long research project focusing on the potential of tidal, wave and floating wind technology has secured support from Marine-i, a program that focuses on innovation in areas such as ocean energy.
The project is based on the Isles of Scilly, an archipelago off the south west coast of England, and is led by Isles of Scilly Community Venture, Planet A Energy and Waves4Power.
There is also potential in rivers. Back in March, the Port of London Authority gave the green light to trials of tidal energy technology on a section of the Thames, a move that could eventually help decarbonise operations connected to the river.
While interest in marine energy systems appears to be growing, the current footprint of the industry and its technologies remains small.
Figures from Ocean Energy Europe show that last year Europe added only 260 kilowatts of tidal power capacity, while only 200 kW of wave energy was installed.
In contrast, according to the industry association WindEurope, 14.7 gigawatts of wind energy capacity were installed in Europe in 2020.