Energy Transition

A new tidal energy project just hit a major milestone in Scotland

scotland scottish natural resources tidal energy green renewable enviroment sustainable united kingdom european union water oceans sea north sea bed wave

Underwater turbines will generate energy and help to preserve Scotland's natural beauty. Image: Unsplash/Daniil Vnoutchkov

Charlotte Edmond
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
Share:
Our Impact
What's the World Economic Forum doing to accelerate action on Energy Transition?
The Big Picture
Explore and monitor how United Kingdom is affecting economies, industries and global issues
A hand holding a looking glass by a lake
Crowdsource Innovation
Get involved with our crowdsourced digital platform to deliver impact at scale
Stay up to date:

Decarbonizing Energy

  • Four underwater turbines off the north coast of Scotland generated enough energy to power nearly 4,000 homes in 2019.
  • Sitting in a natural channel, they harness the energy of the changing currents and are helping build the case for tidal as the energy source of the future.
  • To date, very little research has been done into the impact tidal projects have on the surrounding marine environment.

Sitting off the north coast of Scotland, on the depths of the ocean floor, a gigantic feat of engineering has just achieved a significant milestone.

Have you read?

MeyGen, the world’s largest tidal array, has completed the longest ever run of uninterrupted generation by a multi-megawatt tidal turbine, powering almost 4,000 homes in 2019.

The four giant turbines have now exported 24.7 gigawatt hours (GWh) of predictable renewable power to the national grid. And this is just the first phase of a project that could eventually power 175,000 homes with more than 250 submerged turbines.

The array is off the mainland of Scotland, near the uninhabited island of Stroma, in a natural channel that speeds up the tidal flow of water between the North Sea and Atlantic Ocean.

Like giant underwater windmills, the turbine rotors are driven by the fast-moving currents, which in turn drive generators that then produce electricity. They are fixed to the sea bed and connected to the grid via an armoured cable.

Low-voltage supply from the turbines is converted onshore for export to the grid. Image: SIMEC Atlantis Energy

Awash with potential

Although tidal energy as a concept has been around for some time – the first project launched in 1966 – there has been renewed focus on its potential as an energy source. A 2016 estimate from the European Commission said wave and tidal power could account for 10% of the EU’s energy needs by 2050. And back in 2013, the UK estimated 20% of its power needs could be met by tidal.

Discover

What's the World Economic Forum doing about the transition to clean energy?

As a green energy source, it offers a number of advantages over other renewables. It is not reliant on the sun shining or the wind blowing. And as water is far more dense than air, smaller turbines can be used to generate equivalent amounts of electricity, and they can be placed much more closely together than on land.

energy tidal turbine
Each turbine sits on a foundation weighing between 250 and 350 tonnes, coupled with 6 ballast blocks weighing 1,200 tonnes. Image: SIMEC Atlantis Energy

A power source still in its infancy

There are a number of large-scale projects in various stages across the world, including the Sihwa Lake power station in South Korea and the Jiangxia Pilot Tidal Power Plant in China. But compared to many other renewable energy sources, tidal is still in its comparative infancy.

There are also a number of questions that remain over the impact of tidal arrays and barrages on the marine environment. Initial research has looked at the impact the noise of the turbines might have on marine animals and how the flow of water might be affected, but more in-depth and up-to-date studies are needed.

energy mix
OCED renewable primary energy supply by product, 1990-2018 Image: International Energy Agency

Tidal energy is still quite an expensive way to generate electricity, but given the consistency it offers there is great optimism about its potential. As projects such as MeyGen increasingly come online, there has been a rise in the proportion of energy generation it accounts for. But it is still a much smaller piece of the pie than other renewable sources. The growth in the solar PV and wind power sectors outstrips tidal by some margin.

Don't miss any update on this topic

Create a free account and access your personalized content collection with our latest publications and analyses.

Sign up for free

License and Republishing

World Economic Forum articles may be republished in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Public License, and in accordance with our Terms of Use.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

Share:
World Economic Forum logo
Global Agenda

The Agenda Weekly

A weekly update of the most important issues driving the global agenda

Subscribe today

You can unsubscribe at any time using the link in our emails. For more details, review our privacy policy.

Low-emissivity glass is revolutionizing building efficiency. Here's how

Görkem Elverici

June 7, 2024

About Us

Events

Media

Partners & Members

  • Join Us

Language Editions

Privacy Policy & Terms of Service

© 2024 World Economic Forum