Seabed power plan wins approval

A new tidal-power system for generating electricity, which sits on the seabed, will be tested off the Shetlands this summer.

The system, called Stingray, which is being developed by Engineering Business, generates electricity through oscillating hydroplanes, driven by the tidal current of the sea, transforming the moving water’s kinetic energy into hydraulic power.

Dr Tony Trapp, managing director of EB, said he hopes to see tidal power become a significant element of the UK’s electricity generation over the next 10 years. ‘My long-term ambition – though not based on any scientific data – is to see tidal-stream power generation contribute two per cent of the UK’s electricity.’

EB has been awarded £1.1m by the Department of Trade and Industry to develop the system. But while the government and public are very keen on the use of renewable energy, the ability to generate power cheaply will be crucial to Stingray’s success, Trapp said. ‘The key is for the technology to be commercially attractive. And the indications are that it compares favourably with other forms of offshore energy generation.’

The government award, which follows a three-month feasibility study, will support the design, manufacture and installation of a demonstrator system. The Stingray, which will be produced at the company’s plant on Tyneside, will be installed off the Shetland Islands this summer, and its progress monitored for 12 months. If the trial is successful, the company will begin developing a pre-commercial device, and start looking for financial partners, Trapp said.

Energy minister Brian Wilson, who announced the award, has also revealed plans for a cluster of offshore wave-power stations in the Western Isles. Electricity firm Scottish and Southern is working with manufacturer Wavegen to produce the cluster, which will act as both demonstration plants and commercial generators supplying the energy company.

Winds of change?

Less than three per cent of the country’s electricity is currently sourced from renewable energy. But the government hopes to create a £1bn market by 2010, equivalent to 10 per cent of the UK’s electricity being supplied by renewable sources. Just under half of this figure is expected to come from wind power.

The British Wind Energy Association says the UK’s wind- power capacity will increase by over 40 per cent in 2002, making it the most successful year for the technology yet. Enough turbines to generate 200MW of wind power will be installed this year.And a report by the US Earth Policy Institute, published last week, revealed global electricity production powered by wind grew by 31 per cent in 2001.

The climate for investment in wind energy in the UK has improved recently, said Lester Brown, president and founder of the Earth Policy Institute. ‘My sense is that things are beginning to pick up in the UK, after lagging behind the rest of Europe for some time.’

Wind power is likely to become the foundation of the new energy economy, said Brown. ‘It will be to the advantage of companies to get involved [in generation] sooner rather than later, as it takes time to acquire the engineering know-how and contacts. If companies wait too long they will find it difficult to compete.’