A company in Scotland on Thursday announced it set the world record for producing electricity from the natural undulation of the ocean in the latest advance for a clean power source that’s still in its infancy.
Tidal power uses massive, submerged turbines that function as underwater windmills to produce electricity, pivoting into the current and spinning as the tide goes in and out.
The technology takes advantage of the daily shift in sea levels caused by the gravitational pull of the moon, sun, and rotation of Earth, which can make tidal energy more predictable than wind or solar. Because water is over 800 times more dense than air, tidal energy rotors can also be significantly more compact than those used for wind turbines, which have diameters up to 300 feet.
The company, Atlantis Resources Limited, produced over 700 megawatt hours in August at its flagship underwater MeyGen production site, located in the Pentland Firth, a strait that separates the Orkney Islands from Caithness in the north of Scotland.
“August proved to be a world-record month, providing enough energy to power 2,000 Scottish homes from just two turbines,” said David Taaffe, director of project delivery at the MeyGen site.
Atlantis eventually plans to install 269 turbines in the strait between Orkney and Caithness, where it hopes to expand capacity to 398 megawatts of renewable energy, enough to power 175,000 houses, according to Scottish television news station STV.
Taaffe said the near-term installation of additional turbines would lead to more capacity in the coming months.
“We expect to continue to break records throughout the rest of the year generating both predictable power and revenue,” Taaffe said.
The Scottish government has backed the MeyGen project financially, and on Thursday Scotland’s leaders hailed the news.
“Scotland has already gained a global reputation for renewable energy,” Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said in a speech on the economy. “Right now as I speak, we are currently home to the world’s largest tidal array, and the world’s largest floating windfarm.”
The conservation group WWF Scotland also welcomed the news.
"This is a sign that Scotland is really making progress in harnessing the power of our seas and that we're on our way to securing a low carbon future,” Sam Gardner, acting director of WWF Scotland, told STV.
According to the US Energy Information Administration, the economical production of tidal energy requires a tidal range of at least 10 feet.
Atlantis claims on its web site its tidal turbines turn slowly enough that they pose no threat to marine life, and sea vessels can pass over the tidal field unobstructed.
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