One of the world’s best marine resources, the Pentland Firth Strategic Area encompasses the Pentland Firth and the waters around the Orkney Islands and takes in more than half the top ten tidal development sites in the UK.
The area’s potential is matched only by the complexity of developing it, and the sheer economic and environmental significance of the task. These factors are now under tremendous scrutiny from those organisations with keen interests in its future.
It provides an exploitable energy output potential now estimated to be between 1,000 megawatts (MW) – bigger than many of Britain’s nuclear power stations – and up to 10,000 MW.
Unlocking that potential is important to meeting Scottish Government renewable energy targets, stimulating the north of Scotland’s economy and boosting momentum in the fledgling marine renewables industry.
Now, the Pentland Firth Strategic Area (Pentland Firth and Orkney waters) is the world’s first site to be opened up for large-scale, commercial tidal and wave energy development, and its seabed owners, The Crown Estate, expect it to be generating at least 700 megawatts by 2020.
Issues key to the Pentland Firth Strategic Area’s sustainable development include:
The Pentland Firth and Orkney Waters Delivery Group has been set up to ensure an integrated approach to developing a globally important marine energy industry for local and national benefit.
Led jointly by The Crown Estate and Scottish Government, the group also includes representation from all of the developers with agreements for lease, their technology partners, SNH, Local Authorities, National Grid, SHETL, Scottish Development International and EMEC. The Group is responsible for delivering some of the actions from the FREDS Marine Energy Group's Route Map for the industry published in 2009.
Also active in the sector is the Pentland Firth and Orkney Waters Developers' Forum. This group comprises those developers with agreements for lease and The Crown Estate. The forum has an Enabling Actions Fund, totalling around £4 million. This funding pot is to finance projects which are to the benefit of those taking projects in the area though the pre-consenting stage of development; undertaking bird surveys, for example.
Meanwhile, the world’s first centre for testing and accrediting full-scale, grid-connected wave and tidal energy devices – the European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC) – is located in the heart of the area, at Stromness in Orkney.
EMEC is a world leader in development of marine-based renewables, offering developers the opportunity to test full-scale, grid-connected prototype devices in demanding wave and tidal conditions. EMEC achieved a world first at its wave test site, at Billia Croo on the Orkney mainland, when Edinburgh-based Pelamis Wave Power generated electricity to the National Grid from its deep-water floating device.
At EMEC’s tidal test site, off the nearby island of Eday, Dublin-based OpenHydro was first to install a device generating electricity for the grid.
The centre’s latest tidal development, announced in November, 2009, was agreement for commercial scale testing of a 1 MW tidal turbine, believed to be the world’s biggest, from summer, 2010. Atlantis Resource Corporation’s AK-1000 turbine, with 18-metre diameter rotors, is designed for harsh operating environments and Atlantis has committed to building a strong local supply chain around its rollout and operations.
Now that the agreements for lease are in place with the successful developers in the Pentland Firth and Orkney Waters, projects must now move through the consenting phase, which means they will be subject to receiving the necessary consents; comprehensive environmental impact assessments, consideration of stakeholder interests, and potential local community benefits.
Scottish First Minister, Alex Salmond, said of the development: "The potential of the Pentland Firth and Orkney Waters is quite staggering and The Crown Estate will play a crucial part in enabling developers to take the next step and turn tested, reliable technology into the next wave of generating stations, pumping out electricity for homes and business. A strong marine renewables sector will drive further investment, cut emissions and give us a new contribution to sustainable economic growth.”
Rob Hastings, director of the Marine Estate at The Crown Estate, said: “As well as the economic opportunities for energy production here, the area could become a world class centre of excellence in wave and tidal power development, research, testing and environmental monitoring."
Alex Paterson, chief executive of Highlands and Islands Enterprise, said: “The level of developer interest in the Pentland Firth and Orkney waters confirms both the potential of these waters and the confidence that companies have in the industry's development. HIE is committed to working with partners to develop marine energy generation and to securing the significant economic benefits it offers the Highlands and Islands.”
Other key interests gearing up to meet the new opportunities include Scrabster Harbour on the north Caithness coast, who are planning a £50 million industrial park and deep water quay facilities. Orkney Harbours are redeveloping quay frontage and land at Lyness in Scapa Flow, while owners Orkney Islands Council look also at other likely demands for their Stromness and Kirkwall harbour facilities.
The focus on the Pentland Firth and Orkney waters is also helping to spawn related skills and research initiatives, including three new projects based at the North Highland College, part of the prospective University of the Highlands and Islands, in Thurso, Caithness.
In a £14 million combined programme, the college is developing a research project into marine energy and the environment, led by its Environmental Research Institute. The programme also embraces a new centre to house the research activity, and provide for commercialisation, spin-out and small-scale inward investment businesses, as well as a proposed new centre for energy-related engineering skills development.
Heriot Watt University’s Orkney-based International Centre for Island Technology (ICIT) is running a diverse set of marine energy-related research activities under its Marine Renewables Energy Development in Scotland (MREDS), programme.
Key areas of focus, in which ICIT aims to collaborate closely with industry, include constraints and opportunities for grid connections; guidelines and design for marine energy device moorings; management of project risk in deploying and running devices; and inter-learning between the petroleum and renewables sectors on operating in extreme environments.
Meanwhile, to help generate a clear overview on environmental, commercial and development opportunities affecting the Pentland Firth and Orkney waters, the Scottish Government has produced a Marine Spatial Plan to aid balanced decisions between new activities, fishing, shipping and other issues.