A generator that harnesses the energy of underwater tidal currents will be connected to Northern Ireland's electricity grid this year. Marine Current Turbines has won consent to install a 1MW SeaGen device in Strangford Lough, which has one of the strongest tidal currents in the British Isles.
MCT has operated a smaller underwater turbine, the 300kW SeaFlow, off the north coast of Devon since May 2003, but SeaGen will be the world's first commercial prototype feeding power into an electricity network from underwater currents (rather than waves or the rise and fall of tides).
The larger unit, due to be commissioned during 2006, will have two rotors mounted on a horizontal cross beam. The beam is attached to a pile embedded in the seabed, and the moving parts can be moved up out of the water for maintenance.
"SeaGen is like an underwater windmill that harvests energy from the tides," explained Martin Wright, managing director of Marine Current Turbines. "We are delighted to be going ahead. We now have a unique opportunity to comprehensively assess the environmental impact of our technology as well as showcase its commercial potential. The great advantage of tidal power is its predictability, certainty of 'fuel' supply and zero carbon emissions."
Wright added: "Assuming a successful pilot of SeaGen we can expect to see the first commercial tidal farm to be operating within the next five years."
The project is supported by a £4.27m grant from the Department of Trade & Industry's technology programme and has prompted EDF Energy to increase its existing investment in MCT by £2m.
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