Shetland Composites to construct tidal turbine blades

3 min read

Shetland glass-reinforced plastic technology developer Shetland Composites is to expand manufacturing capacity at its existing production facility in order to construct tidal turbine blades.

The company plans to create a new business that will build on its work constructing fibreglass wave and tidal energy prototypes.

‘We hope to specialise in tidal turbine builds and GRP components in the renewable sector, or refurbishing wind turbines,’ said Fred Gibson, owner and director of Shetland Composites.

As well as constructing marine energy technology prototypes for some of the world’s leading wave and tidal energy firms, Shetland Composites has refurbished 15 operational wind turbines, reinforcing blade leading edges and using weather-resistant paint.

The company has raised £70,000 of local grant funding, which – combined with other finance it has already secured – will be used to extend the facility in order to target the tidal energy market. It expects to complete the installation of new production lines at the new facility by Easter 2015.

‘We’re gearing [our existing facility] up towards tidal manufacturing,’ Gibson said. ‘[The facility] is 18 metres by 30 metres in size and we plan to add half again.’

Shetland Composites will use fibreglass technology, which is robust and lightweight, to build tidal energy blades. The technology is appropriate for underwater use as it is lightweight and weather-resistant, meaning it should require less frequent servicing, according to Gibson.

‘Fibreglass wins over steel; it tends to be strong and very robust in harsh [conditions],’ he said. ‘It’s got a long life so I hope it doesn’t need servicing as often.’

Gibson has a background in developing advanced technology for racing yachts, and sees significant value in technology-transfer between the marine energy and more traditional maritime industries, particularly amid present stringent funding conditions.

Shetland Composites, a profit-making private business set up in 2000, built the original prototype for UK wave energy technology developer Pelamis, which fell into administration last month due to a lack of available funding. The company also built components for Glasgow-based tidal energy technology developer Nautricity, including its Hydrobuoy mooring system.

Its decision to invest in the tidal energy sector is a positive signal following the recent hardship experienced in the marine energy industry.

For example, Pelamis was unable to secure adequate funding to support the rollout of its proprietary technology, after its joint venture partner E.ON pulled out of a combined marine energy research project.

‘I don’t think there’s enough [funding] full-stop for the marine industry,’ said Gibson. ‘With oil dropping to £75 per barrel, all finance is tending to dry up. To harvest energy from the sea is expensive and does rely on energy prices being high. There is not enough investment going into the sector.

‘It’s very important at this stage to keep investing in mechanisms like Pelamis, or you will have to reinvent all the technology again. Hopefully we will work with [Pelamis] again, and others.’

Siemens’ decision last month to divest its ocean energy business, including tidal stream technology developer Marine Current Turbines, raised questions over the sector’s ability to reach commercialisation.

Siemens cited concerns that the tidal sector had not yet reached commercialisation in terms of the market or the supply chain, though the company said in a statement that it believes a dedicated tidal power industry of ‘critical size’ would develop in future.

The German power company also cautioned that ‘limited resources’ would be available for the sector, pointing to an anticipated land grab for suitable coastal sites in which to locate tidal energy projects.

‘If there are components that can be built for wave, we hope to look at building them,’ Gibson said. ‘There are only so many sites available for tidal. The Holy Grail is wave, but conditions are harsher on the surface.’

Gibson expects the move towards local management of Scottish coastal sites, expected as a result of a bipartisan report led by Lord Smith that called for devolution over the management of, and revenue from, Scottish seabed assets owned by the Crown Estate.

‘I think the more local management, the better,’ Gibson said. ‘Local councils should manage [Scottish seabed sites].’

The UK tidal energy market might also do well to take a leaf out of France’s book, after the government last week awarded separate concessions to build pilot tidal turbine farms in the Raz Blanchard to joint ventures between Alstom and GDF Suez, and EDF and French naval and shipping firm DCNS.

Investors interested in speaking to Shetland Composites should contact owner and director Fred Gibson at info@shetlandcomposites.com.

This article originally appeared on www.cleanenergypipeline.com a clean energy news service operated by VB Research, a sister publication to The Engineer. The reporter, Jessica Mills Davies, can be reached at jessica.millsdavies@vbresearch.com