Most Influential Projects 2022

32 Dragon Class Tidal Energy Array

Dragon Class Tidal Energy Array

For changing the way island communities secure energy

In the frigid North Atlantic Ocean between Iceland and Norway sit 18 Danish islands known as the Faroes. Home to 50,000 residents, the community currently captures half of its energy from renewable sources: There are wind turbines on the island of Streymoy, near the capital of Tórshavn. There are photovoltaic solar panels scattered throughout the island chain—a smart strategy given the region is bathed in sunlight for up to 19.5 hours during the summer months. 

And then there are the “sea dragons.”

The sleek winged machines—named for how they appear to be swimming beneath the water—offer a sneak peek into what may be a vital piece of the community’s future energy mix. Developed by Swedish energy firm Minesto, the kite-shaped apparatuses convert kinetic energy from tidal streams and ocean current streams into power, with an underwater turbine tethered to the seabed or surface platform. As the kite wing rides the underwater current, that hydrodynamic lift force propels the turbine at a speed far greater than the water’s flow rate, dramatically boosting energy production. 

Minesto ran a pilot last year with local utility company Sev.en Energy to test configurations—iterating on the combination of different wings spans, generator sizes and tether lengths to maximize on-site yield. Then in April, the project partners went big: launching plans for a large-scale build-out of the tidal array that would collectively serve as a kind of underwater power plant for the Faroes. Across four new sites the project could ultimately supply 40 percent of the Faroes’ electricity.

“Undeniably, the ocean is suffering from the effects of climate change, but it can also be a part of the solution to climate change,” Swedish Ambassador for the Ocean Anna Lindstedt said, when visiting the project site in October. “This particularly applies to green energy, where we have the possibility to generate as much as 40 times more energy from the ocean than we do today.”     

And as the search to generate more sustainable energy solutions intensifies, the tidal array project could prove to be a model for other island chains with similar wave activity. Or, as Sev.en Energy CEO Hákun Djurhuus put it: “We can lead the way for other island and coastal communities.”