Tidal energy: Alyn Smith MEP

The EU must make the most of its potential energy resources, argues Alyn Smith.

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Published by The Parliament Magazine on 21st November 2011.

Scotland is Europe’s energy powerhouse and we have much to contribute to the EU’s development.

As a country we are blessed by our natural assets, and have ever-increasing expertise in low carbon technologies which is allowing us to take full advantage of our environment.

We have around a quarter of Europe’s offshore wind capacity and, in the North Sea, Europe’s largest carbon storage resource. Indeed, Universities Scotland calculated that Scotland could contribute one per cent of global renewable energy needs.

However it is the potential which lies in Scotland’s sea beds which has proved to be the most exciting tale of late.

The significance of Scotland’s marine resource is reflected in recent developments whereby Scottish Power Renewables (SPR) are proposing to build the world’s largest tidal stream energy array in the Sound of Islay; a narrow strait between the islands of Islay and Jura off Scotland’s west coast.

This €46m development is, quite simply, world leading. The development will harness the power of this relatively small area and generate enough electricity for over 5000 homes.

The tidal device will be completely under water and not visible after installation. It will also allow enough clearance for even large vessels to pass above.

The structure will not look too dissimilar to a wind turbine, however unlike wind turbines which rotate to face into the wind; the tidal device will remain static, with its 11.5 metre long blades rotating to suit the bidirectional flow of water.

This project is good news for Scotland and Europe - it will further develop emerging tidal technology and provide economic and community benefits to the islands of Islay and Jura.

Furthermore, it will do well to assist Scotland, and indeed the EU, to deliver on renewable energy targets; Scottish targets are to deliver 100 per cent of electricity demand from renewables by 2020 and marine projects such as this are strategically important to Europe in terms of its potential to contribute to carbon reduction targets beyond 2020.

It is also contributing to the creation of a new exportable industry.

This project in the Sound of Islay is one of many being considered by the EU Investment Bank under the EU’s “NER 300” programme.

This is the world’s largest demonstration programme for such technologies and supports large scale demonstration projects involving innovative renewable energy and carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies.

However this is a very competitive fund, and so we must wait with bated breath until the fund’s evaluation of the project, expected in the second half of 1212.

The Islay Tidal Array project is at an advanced stage- it has received formal consent from the Scottish government and is in the process of securing its consent to connect to the grid.

If funding can be secured it will allow for a world leading project to move to construction phase, and build confidence in this emerging sector which is critical if we are to meet our targets.

A quarter of Europe’s potential tidal energy resource can be found in Scotland, now we must realise it.