Wave goodbye to hope of tidal energy exports, Scots politicians told

Estimates of power by Oxford researchers are a fraction of those of the Scottish Government

Scotland has seriously overestimated the amount of electricity that might be generated from tidal energy in the Pentland Firth, the stretch of shallow water separating the mainland and the Orkneys, according to the first detailed study into what has been dubbed the “Scottish Saudi Arabia”.

Scientists have estimated that the maximum average amount of electricity that can be generated from tidal turbines placed in the Pentland Firth is 1.9 gigawatts, with a more realistic output being nearer to 1GW.

However, the Scottish Government states on its website, “Energy in Scotland: get the facts”, that Scotland has 25 per cent of Europe’s tidal energy potential, which it says amounts to 14GW.

This kind of optimistic estimate has led some politicians to compare Scotland’s potential energy exports to those of Saudi Arabia, arguing that an independent Scotland will be able to export its spare electricity to Europe.

The study still found that the Pentland Firth is remarkable for its tidal energy potential, with currents running around the Orkneys at up to 5 metres per second due to the incredibly fast tidal stream running between the Atlantic Ocean and the North Sea.

“Pentland Firth promises to be one of the best sites in the world for tidal power. What our research shows is that it could potentially generate power equivalent to almost half of Scotland’s annual electricity consumption,” said Thomas Adcock, the Oxford University engineer who led the research.

“Generally, for many reasons, the Scottish Government is keen to promote its renewable energy resources and get the investment to exploit it, but the estimates it gives for the Pentland Firth are considerably higher than what we are giving in this study,” Dr Adcock said.

“There’s a huge amount of tidal power there but it’s certainly not the case that Scotland will be able to export its tidal energy, which has been one of the arguments for Scottish independence,” he said.

The study, published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society A, estimated the maximum number of turbines that could be placed in the Pentland Firth without interrupting the flow of the current to a point where little or no electricity ends up being generated.

Three rows of turbines would be the maximum that could be deployed without seriously eroding the power-generating capacity of the tidal flow. This would produce a power output that could match or exceed that of wind turbines, which compete for investment, Dr Adcock said.

“Our study provides the first robust data about how much energy it would be feasible to extract… it is the most robust estimate to date.

“It also suggests that to be efficient any scheme would have to be ‘joined up’ so that, for example, individual tidal turbines did not cancel each other out and provisions were made to store the greater energy produced by spring tides and feed these back in at neap tides,” Dr Adcock added.

“Building handfuls of tidal turbines in ‘plots’ of ocean leased out to individual developers is not going to extract the maximum energy from Pentland Firth. To make the most of this unique site the placement of turbines would need to be carefully planned,” he added.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Technical Service Engineer - Vehicles

£25000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's premier supplie...

Recruitment Genius: Home Care / Support Workers

£7 - £10 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This care provider is looking for Home ...

Recruitment Genius: Web Team Leader

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's leading web des...

Recruitment Genius: Client Manager

£27000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A growing, successful, friendly...

Day In a Page

Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

Greece referendum

Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

7/7 bombings anniversary

Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

Versace haute couture review

Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
No hope and no jobs, so Gaza's young risk their lives, climb the fence and run for it

No hope and no jobs in Gaza

So the young risk their lives and run for it
Fashion apps: Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers

Fashion apps

Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers
The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
Compton Cricket Club

Compton Cricket Club

Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

It helps a winner keep on winning
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate