Today, as oil prices continue to rise, the world’s first megawatt tidal generator powers up. The SeaGen tidal energy installation in Northern Ireland is scheduled to bring its transformer online today and begin producing clean power this Friday. Just a small scale prototype, this one 1.2 megawatt turbine will power approximately 1000 homes.
Here in the US we are struggling to break our oil dependence and many of the proposals out there suggest swapping one addiction for another *cough* ethanol. There’s a lot of talk about wind and solar but then we have McCain and others pushing to lift the moratorium on offshore oil drilling, while the US Bureau of Land Management puts a moratorium on solar installations on public land… what?!?! Amongst all this debate there is little talk about tidal power, which is an efficient and clean alternative that deserves a little more attention.
Traditional tidal energy systems were built into barriers like damns. The problem with these is the huge environmental impact, particularly to estuaries and the local aquatic life. Tidal generators that use tidal currents rather than the regular rise and fall of the sea have proven to be more flexible and have less of an impact on the surrounding eco-system.
The SeaGen system in the Strangford Narrows of Northern Ireland is by Marine Current Turbines (MCT). It is large pillar holding giant “propellers” that resemble a wind tower. The oceans currents passing by the tower cause the propeller to turn which turns the generator. The rotors on the SeaGen turbine turn about 10 to 15 revolutions per minute which is relatively slow, and pose little to no threat to aquatic life. As we mentioned earlier the SeaGen is a small scale prototype of what MCT plans will be part of larger commercial tidal farms which they believe will be able to generate up to 500MW of power.