Tides to power whisky distilleries

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Tidal power, hitherto one of the poor relations of the renewable energy sector, will take a substantial leap forward with a major new undersea development off the west coast of Scotland, announced yesterday.

An array of ten tidal turbines, the largest, and indeed the first of its kind in the world, is to be installed on the seabed in the Sound of Islay, the channel between the islands of Islay and Jura.

It is envisaged that the electricity it will produce – ten megawatts – will be enough to power the whole of Islay, including three of the island’s ten world-famous whisky distilleries. The drinks multinational Diageo, owner of the Lagavulin, Caol Ila and Port Ellen distilleries, has already signed a commercial agreement to take the power the tidal array produces.

The Scottish government has approved the £40m plan from ScottishPower Renewables (SPR), which seeks to take advantage of the strong tidal flows and shelter from storms offered by the narrow sound, only half a mile wide at its narrowest point, and selected after a UK-wide survey.

“With around a quarter of Europe's potential tidal energy resource and a tenth of the wave capacity, Scotland's seas have unrivalled potential to generate green energy, create new, low carbon jobs, and bring billions of pounds of investment to Scotland,” said Scotland’s Finance and Sustainable Growth Secretary, John Swinney. “This development – the largest tidal array in the world – does just that, and will be a milestone in the global development of tidal energy.”

The project will use HS1000 tidal turbines developed by the Norwegian company Hammerfest Strøm AS, partly-owned owned by Iberdrola (SPR’s parent). Seen as one of the world’s most advanced tidal turbine designs, a prototype device has been generating electricity in Norway for over 6 years. The company is currently constructing the first HS1000 device that will go into waters off Orkney later this year.

“The testing of the HS1000 machine in Orkney this year will help us to finalise our timetable for the demonstration project in Islay, but we will begin work on the project in 2012 and plan to have machines installed as early as feasible during the period 2013 to 2015,” said ScottishPower Renewables’ Chief Executive, Keith Anderson.

“Tidal power has long been considered as one of Scotland’s most valuable renewable energy resources, and we have discussed its potential for many years. Today’s announcement moves the whole marine renewables industry forward in Scotland and the UK.”

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