Tidal power has been harnessed to generate electricity for Britain’s National Grid for the first time, it has been announced.
The move has been hailed as a milestone in the development of marine energy, which could provide up to a fifth of Britain’s electricity needs.
It came when a single turbine on the Atlantic seabed off Orkney was connected to the National Grid on Monday morning. The area off the north of Scotland is regarded as potentially one of the best in the world for tidal power and has been described as the “Saudi Arabia of marine energy”.
Although only a small amount of electricity was initially generated as part of a trial, output will be stepped up over the next few weeks to provide enough power for around 150 homes.
Jim Mather, Scotland’s energy minister, hailed it as a “massive step forward”.
“This is the first time that homes in Britain will be powered using the energy of the tides,” he said. “Scotland has unrivalled potential to generate clean, green energy from our seas. Marine power lies at the heart of our ambitions to develop a vibrant renewables sector, creating jobs and boosting economic growth while tackling climate change.”
The turbine was installed in 2006 by OpenHydro, an Irish company, at the European Marine Energy Centre’s (EMEC) test site at the Fall of Warness, off the island of Eday.
EMEC was set up using public money to help develop technology from the prototype stage through to the commercial market.
It has already been involved in generating wave power for the National Grid.
Neil Kermode, EMEC’s managing director, said: “This is a very exciting project. OpenHydro’s vision is to deploy farms of tidal turbines under the world’s oceans and we are delighted that EMEC has been able to support the delivery of this key milestone.
“The wave and tidal resource around Scotland’s coasts is so significant that many other developers across the world are striving to develop devices capable of harnessing the force of our tides and waves.”
Although tide power is far more expensive to develop than other options such as wind and solar energy, it is far more reliable. Supporters claim it is taking the UK to the threshold of a new energy age.
Later this year another tide turbine – SeaGen – will be installed near the mouth of Strangford Lough, Northern Ireland, generating enough electricity to power more than 1,000 homes.
Meanwhile a wave energy power station, developed by an Edinburgh firm, is to be deployed in the Atlantic Ocean off the Portuguese coast.
Other wave turbines are planned for next year for waters near Cornwall and the Orkneys and a study is currently being carried out into constructing a barrage to harness the power of the Severn.
Dr Mark Williamson, director of innovations for the Carbon Trust, said: “In the UK, marine energy has the potential to deliver up to 20 per cent of our electricity need. Centres such as EMEC play a crucial role in the development of wave and tidal energy technology. The Carbon Trust continues to support such projects, reinforcing the UK’s leading position in the marine renewable energy field.”