The strong tidal waters of the Pentland Firth could provide enough energy to power about half of Scotland’s energy needs, according to engineers at Edinburgh University.Engineering researchers have completed the most detailed study yet of how much tidal power could be generated by turbines placed in the Pentland Firth, between mainland Scotland and Orkney. They estimate 1.9 gigawatts (GW) could be available.
The in-depth assessment by engineers at the Universities of Oxford and Edinburgh offers valuable insights into how to develop and regulate this clean energy resource effectively.
Professor Alistair Borthwick, from Edinburgh’s School of Engineering, said: “Our research builds on earlier studies by analysing the interactions between turbines and the tides more closely.”
The Pentland Firth is a prime candidate to house marine power projects because of its tidal currents, which are among the fastest in the British Isles.
Engineers say that their study improves on previous estimates of the generating capacity of turbines embedded in the Firth – ranging from 1 to 18 GW – which were too simplistic or based on inappropriate models.
Researchers calculated that as much as 4.2 GW could be captured, but because tidal turbines are not 100% efficient, they say that 1.9 GW is a more realistic target.
To exploit the firth’s full potential, turbines would need to be located across the entire width of the channel. In order to minimise the impacts on sea life and shipping trade, a number of individual sites have been identified for development by the UK Crown Estate, which will lease these sites to tidal energy firms.
Researchers have pinpointed locations where turbines would need to be positioned for the Firth to meet its full energy production potential.
The research was commissioned and funded as part of the Energy Technologies Institute’s Performance Assessment of Wave and Tidal Array Systems project.
Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond once hailed the Pentland Firth as having the potential to turn Scotland into the “Saudi Arabia of renewable energy”.
Fergus Ewing, Scottish Energy Minister, commented: “The renewable resources off Scotland’s shores are extraordinary. For the benefit of our environment, we need to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels through better and more efficient uses of energy. Marine energy is part of the solution.”