Off the east coast of Northern Ireland, in a marine nature reserve near Strangford Lough, is the world’s first commercial-scale tidal current electricity generator to feed directly into an electricity network. Weighing 300 tonnes, and measuring 43 meters from tip to tip, it is billed as a clean green alternative to fossil fuels. Installed in July 2008, it has been in use since last March and has already generated 300 megawatts of power.
Michael Doran, an engineer, says, “‘The turbine that we’re looking at here is about one megawatt and that’s probably cost about £10-12 million to put in. The problem is that that is about three or four times more expensive than other forms of renewable energy. Now, that price will come down as it’s developed. We’ve got economies of scale within the industry – but at the moment it’s extremely expensive.” The system has twin rotating blades which turn at 14 revolutions per minute, generating enough electricity for about 1000 homes. But this technology has other advantages as well. Says Angela Robotham, another engineer, “‘The big thing about tidal power is that you can predict it. You can look at the tidal charts, for example, for hundreds – if not thousands of years into the future and you can predict on a certain time on a certain day and month and year ahead how much energy that machine out there will be producing.” The generator is situated in a marine nature reserve, Strangford Lough, which is covered by European Union environmental protection laws. Because the generator is a new technology, there are concerns that it could harm the area’s fragile ecosystem. According to a study Queen’s University in Belfast, the generator has little environmental effects. But concern remains. For more information see http://www.seageneration.co.uk/ http://www.ni-environment.gov.uk/0execsum.pdf http://www.strangfordlough.org/fishing/ranching.htm