Project Focus: Tidal power in Orkney

As the world looks for more environmentally friendly ways of generating predictable power, and delivering improved domestic energy security, Orbital Marine Power (Orbital) has focused on developing technology to harness the power of the tides.

It’s estimated that 11% of the UK’s current electricity demand could be met by making use of the tidal streams in UK waters, and there is even greater potential across Europe and beyond.

Orbital aims to deliver clean, predictable power for millions of people, homes and businesses, using what has been described as the most ‘innovative tidal turbine technology in the world’, deploying its pioneering floating turbine technology across the globe.

Andrew Scott, CEO at Orbital, says: “As the UK looks to accelerate the decarbonisation of its energy system, we firmly believe tidal projects can bring unique benefits while harnessing a perfectly predictable and secure source of renewable energy.”

Innovative tidal technology

The FORWARD2030 project (Fast- tracking Offshore Renewable Energy With Advanced Research to Deploy 2,030MW of tidal energy before 2030), is a pan-European consortium initiative lead by Orbital to advance the commercialisation and rollout of tidal stream energy – aiming for 2,030 MW by 2030.

The project aims to secure and go beyond delivery of the Ocean Energy Europe’s 2030 vision high-growth scenario and to accelerate cost reduction of tidal stream technology by a further 25% by 2024.

Orbital’s contribution to the project will see the installation of the next iteration of the O2 – Orbital’s most powerful tidal stream turbine – integrated with a hydrogen production facility and battery storage. Project partners will design options for integrating large-scale tidal power into future net zero energy systems, while developing environmental monitoring and marine spatial planning tools for large floating tidal arrays.

Throughout the project, Orbital will advance the company’s pioneering floating tidal turbine design, with support from technical partner SKF, building an “optimised fully integrated power train solution”. Orbital’s partners will deliver various vital technical innovations to the machine, including increased rated power, enhanced turbine performance and an array of integration solutions. These innovations will reduce the cost of Orbital’s technology even further.

The €26.7m project has received €20.5m of grant support from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme, an important step in creating multi-vector energy systems for a net-zero future.

Next generation turbines

Orbital’s next generation turbine is deployed next to the O2 at the European Marine Energy Centre’s (EMEC) Fall of Warness site off Eday, Orkney. The new turbine is part of the world’s most powerful floating tidal array, helping to deliver FORWARD2030.

Partners, including EMEC, ENGIE Laborelec (part of the leading ENGIE research and innovation group on electricity) and the University of Edinburgh, will run comprehensive tests and demonstrations on the new turbine to ensure it can perform to the highest standard. To enhance the test programme, EMEC will deliver an integrated monitoring system and develop an operational forecasting tool to optimise access for operations and maintenance.

The launch of Orbital's O2 tidal stream turbine

Orkney project

The O2 is Orbital’s first commercial turbine and represents the culmination of more than 15 years of world-leading product development in the UK. Anchored in the Fall of Warness at the European EMEC, where tidal speeds can exceed 3m/s, the O2 is connected via subsea cable to the local electricity grid and is helping power the communities of Orkney cleanly and sustainably from the waters that flow past their islands.

The O2 has a 74m long hull structure with twin 1MW power-generating nacelles at the end of retractable leg structures, which are mounted on a floating platform, designed to give low-cost access to all major components for through-life servicing and enabling the turbine to be positioned in the most energetic parts of the water flow. Expansive 10m blades give the O2 more than 600m2 of swept area to capture flowing tidal energy.

The floating structure is held on station with a four-point mooring system where each mooring chain has the capacity to lift over 50 double decker buses. It has been designed so that installation of the turbine, and all its associated moorings, can be carried out by low-cost work vessels and servicing can be carried out by RIB vessels – minimising downtime and lowering construction and operational costs. Electricity is transferred from the turbine via a dynamic cable to the seabed and a static cable along the seabed to the local onshore electricity network.

Renewable projects in Orkney were recently given a boost by Ofgem announcing it is minded to approve a new 220MW transmission connection, to be built from the Scottish mainland to service renewable power exports from the islands.

Following the award of contracts for difference (CfDs) in last year’s AR4 process, Orbital is already targeting the installation of three more of its tidal turbines at the EMEC site, alongside the O2, to expand its tidal generation capacity in the coming years.

The company also recently announced more project developments in the area with a 30MW lease and grid connection offer in the adjacent Westray seabed area. In keeping with the company’s strategy of carrying out major aspects of its manufacturing within the UK, the construction of the Westray project would be expected to result in over £120m of domestic supply chain spend and create hundreds of jobs across construction and around a dozen new permanent jobs locally to provide operations and maintenance services.

The Option Agreement is for 30MW, which would equate to approximately 12 Orbital devices installed across the site. The waters around Orkney have significantly wider tidal stream energy potential and the Westray site is just one example of how this can be harnessed to provide clean, predictable power.

Environmental impact

The Orbital team is progressing environmental studies and brings extensive local operational and environmental data to help shape and inform optimal project design, having successfully installed, operated and monitored a number of floating tidal projects on the neighbouring EMEC site since 2011.

“One of Orbital’s key objectives is reducing carbon emissions by harnessing an entirely untapped source of renewable energy,” says Andrew Scott, Orbital’s CEO. “In doing so, we aim to help restore our oceans after what has been a disastrous decline in species and ocean health over the past two centuries.

“We are fortunate in the UK that we have a well-established environmental licensing framework for the deployment of tidal turbines in the marine environment, which has led to extensive environmental characterisation and monitoring of tidal stream sites with and without technologies deployed. Innovative environmental monitoring research programmes have looked at myriad characteristics and areas of interaction.”

Evidence from around 10,000 hours of wildlife observations at EMEC’s sites has indicated no significant long-term changes in the distribution of birds or marine mammals due to the presence and operation of wave and tidal devices.

Orbital is currently progressing an acoustic survey of its O2 tidal turbine, conducted by EMEC under the Horizon 2020 FloTEC and FORWARD2030 projects, to better understand the ‘noise signature’ of the O2. This, and other monitoring programmes around projects, will continue to advance the understanding of the ecologies where its technology is deployed and the interactions it may have.

Alistair Carmichael, MP for Orkney and Shetland, said: “These are exciting times for tidal stream energy. Progress with Orbital’s Westray project is a vote of confidence in the potential here in the isles and demonstrates exactly why expanding grid capacity for Orkney has been so important.

“This good news is also evidence of the need for a more robust strategy from the Government on tidal stream deployment, including continued and expanded backing in the next round of CfD funding. We need to continue to ramp up development in the years to come.”

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