Research by scientists from Edinburgh and Oxfod Universities suggests that the Pentland Firth could provide up to half of Scotland’s power from renewable energy. The firth, between Orkney and Caithness, has some of the fastest tidal currents in the UK – though generating that power is fraught with difficulty. Currents there are among the fastest in the world, with speeds of more than 18mph reported.
A number of individual sites have already been earmarked for development by the UK Crown Estate, which owns the seabed. They were chosen in areas which would minimise the impact on sea life and shipping. In this new report, the engineers explained that, to extract the maximum power (estimated at 1.9GW), turbines would have to be placed across the entire width of the channel. They also suggested locations where turbines should be placed to achieve the best results for producing green energy.
Prof Guy Houlsby from the Department of Engineering Science at the University of Oxford, who led the study, said that the UK enjoyed “potentially some of the best tidal resources worldwide, and if we exploit them wisely they could make an important contribution to our energy supply. With careful planning we can harness Scotland’s tidal energy to help cut our climate emissions while safeguarding the nation’s tremendous marine environment”
Prof Alistair Borthwick of the school of engineering at the University of Edinburgh added that the research “builds on earlier studies by analysing the interactions between turbines and the tides more closely. This is a more accurate approach than was used in the early days of tidal stream power assessment, and should be useful in calculating how much power might realistically be recoverable from the Pentland Firth.”
In September, energy company MeyGen was given permission to install what was then described as the “largest tidal turbine array in Europe” in the Pentland Firth, the first such commercial deployment in Scottish waters.
The Scottish Government’s stated aim is to generate 50% of electricity consumption from renewables by next year. It wants to see that that figure rise to 100% by 2020. First Minister, Alex Salmond, once hailed the Pentland Firth as having the potential to turn Scotland into the “Saudi Arabia of renewable energy”.