Energy company announces world first as its tidal power project hits major milestone

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This image, from 2017, shows one of the MeyGen project’s tidal stream turbines. The MeyGen array has a total of four turbines.
Chris Ratcliffe | Bloomberg | Getty Images

The emerging tidal power sector seems to have taken another step forward — an Edinburgh-headquartered firm said Monday that its project had achieved a world first by producing 50 gigawatt hours of electricity.

“During the early hours of this morning … our tidal stream array off the coast of the Pentland Firth became the first tidal stream array in the world to generate 50GWh of electricity,” Graham Reid, the CEO of SAE Renewables, said in a statement.

Reid described the news as a “significant milestone in delivering tidal stream power at scale.”

“Total global generation from all other tidal devices and sites is less than 50% of that amount,” he added.

Located in waters north of mainland Scotland, SAE Renewables’ MeyGen array is made up of four 1.5 megawatt turbines and has a total capacity of 6 MW when fully operational. Currently, three turbines are in operation.

“The MeyGen site has been operational since 2017, we have overcome many challenges, with reliability being an issue in the early days, but we have learned an immense amount along the way,” Reid said.

Scotland has a long association with North Sea oil and gas production, but in recent years it’s become a hub for companies and projects focused on tidal power and marine energy in general.

These businesses include Nova Innovation, which has developed the 600 kilowatt Shetland Tidal Array, and Orbital Marine Power, which is working on what it says is the “most powerful tidal turbine in the world.”

North of the Scottish mainland, the archipelago of Orkney is home to the European Marine Energy Centre, where wave and tidal energy developers can test and assess their technology in the open sea.

Relatively small footprint

Though there’s excitement about the potential of marine energy, the footprint of tidal stream projects remains much smaller than that of other renewables.

Some progress has been made in recent years, however. In data released in March 2022, trade association Ocean Energy Europe said 2.2 MW of tidal stream capacity was installed in Europe in 2021, up from just 260 KW in 2020. Globally, 3.12 MW of tidal stream capacity was installed.

But by way of comparison, Europe installed 17.4 gigawatts of wind power capacity in 2021, according to figures from industry body WindEurope.