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Caithness plays its part in helping China develop tidal energy

By Gordon Calder

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The turbine installed off the coast of China is based on this Atlantis device, in operation in the Pentland Firth.
The turbine installed off the coast of China is based on this Atlantis device, in operation in the Pentland Firth.

CAITHNESS has played a key part in assisting China to develop its tidal energy industry, according to the company behind the pioneering MeyGen project in the Pentland Firth.

Simec Atlantis Energy helped design the massive 500-kilowatt turbine which has just been installed off China's east coast. It is based on the Atlantis AR1500 turbine, which is in operation in the firth.

Simec worked with the China Shipbuilding Industry Corporation and the China Three Gorges company to develop the tidal-stream turbine. The structure, with a rotor diameter of 18 metres, was installed between the islands of Putuoshan and Huludao in the Zhoushan archipelago in the past week.

The turbine was built in Wuhan, in the Hubei province, which was at the centre of the global coronavirus outbreak. The restrictions imposed by the Chinese government resulted in logistical challenges relating to social distancing and regulations concerning manufacturing facilities.

But despite the difficulties the work was completed in 18 months.

China is turning to renewable sources as it tries to cut its use of coal which, with fossil fuel, accounts for about 60 per cent of the country’s energy consumption. It is looking at alternatives including tidal-stream energy which could supply more than 8.2 gigawatts to the grid.

Tim Cornelius, chief executive of Simec Atlantis Energy, said: "We can be extremely proud of the role we played in this project. The fast execution, from concept design to installation, represents a phenomenal feat of engineering that bodes well for a rapid future roll-out of tidal power in China, which in turn will have material cost reduction implications globally."

He added: "MeyGen has provided the operational experience and performance data to export the company’s expertise and technology to the world, with China the latest market to open in Asia.

"Over the past two years, Atlantis has expanded its global portfolio of tidal projects from the tidal array development activities in Normandy, France, to supporting the development of the Nautilus tidal energy project in Indonesia. We are also supplying tidal generation equipment and offshore construction services for a tidal demonstration project in Japan."

Last year, the company signed a partnership deal with US technology giant GE to develop commercial-scale tidal power around the world, using a two-megawatt version of the AR1500.

Meanwhile, Simec Atlantis is developing the second, 80-megawatt stage of its MeyGen scheme with plans to supply power to a data centre in what is expected to be a global first for marine energy.

The tidal array achieved a world first last year when it recorded the longest period of uninterrupted electricity generation ever reached. It exported 24.7 gigawatt hours (GWh) of energy – equivalent to the average annual needs of around 3800 homes – and generated £3.9 million in 2019.

By the end of last year, phase 1A of MeyGen generated total revenues of £7.1 million.

When the project is completed, it is expected to generate 398 megawatts of electricity, enough to power 175,000 homes.

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