Off the coast of Scotland’s Inner Hebrides, on the isles of Islay and Jura, underwater turbines will soon be powering local whisky distilleries.
Created by tidal energy firm Nova Innovation, the underwater turbines will generate tidal power displacing the need for the islands to use fossil fuels.
The tidal project—called Òran na Mara, which is Gaelic for ‘Song of the Sea’—will help to build Scotland’s blue economy, while preserving the health of the ocean environment.
Islay and Jura are currently homes to 10 of Scotland’s whisky distilleries, which will be powered via a direct connection or through the grid. The Scotch Whisky Association has committed to reaching net zero by 2040, with some Islay distilleries pledging net zero even sooner.
“Tidal energy can play a huge role in decarbonizing the whisky industry and ensuring a sustainable future for Scotland’s island communities,” says Simon Forrest, CEO and co-founder of Edinburgh-based Nova Innovation. “The energy we produce is renewable, predictable and provides a sustainable solution to the climate emergency that we all face.”
Following a Sustainable Blueprint
The first phase of this tidal array is expected to begin generating power to the islands by 2022. The underwater turbines will work in harmony with the marine environment, have no visual impact on the landscape, and create no navigational hazard for ships.
The Òran na Mara project builds upon the expertise developed by Nova Innovations' earlier ventures in Scotland. In 2016, the company constructed the world’s first offshore tidal energy array in Bluemull Sound, Shetland, a subarctic archipelago in the Northern Isles of Scotland.
This array has powered the Shetland grid and provided clean energy for the 22,000 people who have been living on the islands since its launch. Like the Bluemull Sound project, Òran na Mara will involve drawing upon expertise in the area and working with businesses to create supply chains locally.
Once the project gets up and running it will also be extended to other areas.
“Support and interest in the project are strong,” says Forrest. “Discussions with community groups, distilleries and government have taken place and we are keen to progress these and widen the conversation to include other interested parties. As well as electricity, we are looking at [using clean energy sources like] hydrogen fuel (for heating and transport) and other methods of meeting the energy requirements of Islay and Jura.”
Turning the Tides
Tidal energy is only a relatively new source of renewable power. The challenge with most renewables, such as solar and wind power, has been their unpredictable and intermittent nature. The sun does not always shine, and the wind doesn’t always blow.
On the contrary, the tide is predictable and repeats every six hours so we can accurately predict to the minute how much energy will be generated.
The tide is one of the strongest forces on the planet, and technological advancements have enabled the sector to scale up globally. By 2050, it is estimated tidal power will generate £126 billion.
To make tidal power even more efficient, Nova Innovation has been working on new technologies to reduce costs and improve processes.
Learning from the lessons made from the turbines produced for the Shetland project, as well as looking at advancements in the wind industry, the company has developed a new machine. These new machines will be used for the isles of Islay and Jura project.
The main difference is that the new turbine does not feature a gearbox. These are normally used to increase the rotational speed of the blades, so they spin at a level at which energy can be produced. Instead, it is replaced with a direct-drive system that can generate energy at lower speeds without using as many parts.
“Fewer moving parts enhance its reliability and extend the period between maintenance intervals from one year to more than two years, cutting the cost of energy,” says Forrest. “By 2030, tidal energy will be cheaper than nuclear power and fossil fuels, providing cleaner and sustainable energy for coastal communities around the world.”
Overall, the new subsea turbines slash the costs of tidal energy by one-third.
The world is currently facing a climate crisis. Forrest sees tidal energy being part of the solution on a global scale. Presently, Nova Innovation is building a tidal array in Nova Scotia, Canada, which will deliver clean energy to businesses and homes in the region. They are also planning to undertake a project in the world's largest archipelago in Indonesia.
"Tidal energy offers a huge opportunity to regenerate and decarbonize coastal populations, businesses and communities all around the globe," he says.