The Scottish Government has backed a plan to build 10 one-megawatt tidal power turbines in a strait between the small islands of Islay (pronounced ''Isla'') and Jura off the West coast of Scotland. This will be the world's largest tidal power station - which resembles a wind farm, only underwater! The turbines will power over 5000 homes and cost £40 million ($65 million).
Scotland is regarded by energy experts as having the best tidal power resource anywhere in the world, and after a long search, the Islay sea bed was chosen as being the foremost site for a pilot project. It has strong tidal flows, shelter from storms and waves and sufficient grid capacity. The ground-breaking - or perhaps sea-bed breaking - project, from ScottishPower Renewables, was also carefully investigated from the environmental point of view, and deemed not to be a threat to the area's outstanding wildlife.
The project will use HS1000 tidal turbines developed by Norwegian company Hammerfest StrÃƒ ¸m AS. A 300 kilowatt prototype model has been generating electricity in Norway waters for over six years, so it is seen as one of the world’s most advanced tidal turbine designs.
The Scottish Government wants to increase its use of renewables, with a commitment to generate 80% of Scotland's power by alternative energy by 2020, and the Islay Tidal Project is the first of a number of important schemes which are in development. ScottishPower Renewables expects to start the project next year and deploy the ten turbines as early as is feasible between 2013-2015.
One of the first beneficiaries of the scheme will be the whisky industry, as a contract is already in place to provide power to eight distilleries and maltings from the tidal station. Trust the Scots to get their priorities right.
Scottish Finance and Sustainable Growth Secretary John Swinney said: ''With around a quarter of Europe's potential tidal energy resource and a tenth of the wave capacity, Scotland's seas have unrivalled potential to generate green energy, create new, low carbon jobs, and bring billions of pounds of investment to Scotland.'' He added, ''This development - the largest tidal array in the world - does just that and will be a milestone in the global development of tidal energy.''
This project, when completed, will mean that the UK in general and Scotland in particular will be at the forefront of tidal technology, although the US and Canada are advancing in this sector too.
The knowledge gained will be of massive benefit to the understanding of how tides can be used to provide clean low-carbon renewable energy for the future.
Top Illustration: Underwater Turbine array by Hammerfest Strom.