Scotland’s Highlands and Islands have more than their share of tidal energy resources. The Pentland Firth and Orkney Waters commercial lease area hosts 6 of the top 10 tidal energy sites in the UK. The Shetland Islands and the waters around Argyll and the islands are also considered to have great potential for generating tidal energy.
The Highlands and Islands is home to one of the most active tidal areas in the world, the Pentland Firth and Orkney waters. It's also the home of the European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC) established in 2004 and after 11 years of operation, still the worlds only grid connected wave and tidal test site. It is also the location for the MeyGen project, the worlds largest tidal stream array project, currently (May 2016) under construction.
This area of sea off the northern coast of mainland Scotland, and encompassing the waters around the Orkney Islands, contains 50% of the UK’s tidal resource and 25% of Europe’s tidal resource.
In March 2010, the Crown Estate ran a bidding round for wave and tidal projects in the Pentland Firth and Orkney Waters. a wide range of projects were successful in obtaining agreements for lease to deploy their devices in the Pentland Firth and Orkney Waters as part of its Round 1 offer of commercial scale seabed leases for tidal and wave developments.
These included Meygen, and, following a period of consolidation in the industry, MeyGen's parent company Atlantis Resources Ltd, now also plan to develop a number of other locations off the Caithness Coast.
Edinburgh based Nova Innovation have also delivered a global first in Shetland, where their three turbine development in Yell Sound, is the first multi turbine community scale development anywhere world.
A globally important hub for advancement of tidal device research and development (as well as wavepower devices) is the European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC) in Orkney, which opened its tidal research facilities in 2007. Developers are able to test commercial-scale, grid-connected prototypes in realistic sea conditions.
EMEC’s tidal test site is located at the Fall of Warness, off the island of Eday. The channel (4km by 2km) has powerful marine currents and seven test berths are now in place at depths ranging from 12m to 50m.
A wide range of tidal developers have tested devices at EMEC: OpenHydro, Tidal Generation Ltd, Atlantis Resources Corporation, ANDRITZ HYDRO Hammerfest, Voith Hydro, Scotrenewables, and Bluewater Energy Services.
Beside its main task of working with individual developers to monitor their own proprietary devices, EMEC runs other distinct research activity. This includes “MetOcean” monitoring to collect data on current and wave behaviour in varying weather, to help inform device design and assessment.
Two institutions with the University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI), undertake world leading research into the interactions of marine energy and the environment. The Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS), in Argyll, has been looking at possible impacts of tidal and wave devices on the marine environment.
SAMS has been working in conjunction with EMEC to develop methodologies and equipment to collect acoustic baseline data at the Orkney tidal test site, so that long-term monitoring can be conducted to assess any impacts on fish, sea mammals and birds.
UHI's Environmental Research Institute in Thurso are also experts in researching and modeling marine energy resource and risk, along with the economic and community impact of wave and tidal projects.