Author: Shane Quill, offshore environmental & consents advisor, OpenHydro
“There is a tide in the affairs of men, which, taken at the flood, leads to fortune.”
In Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, we see Brutus urging his comrades to seize a sudden opportunity that has arisen. Today, Northern Ireland seeks to do likewise and capitalise on the chance to be a world leader in tidal energy. Tidal Ventures Ltd, a joint venture between Bord Gáis Energy and OpenHydro, is eager to help realise this goal.
Northern Ireland has set itself a challenging target of ensuring that 40% of its electricity consumption comes from renewable resources by 2020. It is envisaged that this increased commitment to renewable energy will improve security and diversity of energy supply and support economic activity, while at the same time contributing to reduced carbon emissions (DETI Strategic Energy Framework 2010).
In response to this target, the UK's Crown Estate launched the offshore wind and tidal leasing rounds in December 2011. By October 2012, it had awarded an agreement for lease to Tidal Ventures Ltd to develop a commercial-scale tidal energy array offshore of Torr Head on the north coast of County Antrim.
The award was made as part of Northern Ireland’s Offshore Renewable Energy Strategic Action Plan (ORESAP) and was the result of a competitive tender process. Current site projections suggest that the project has the capacity to generate 100MW of energy – enough to power over 75,000 homes in Northern Ireland by 2020.
Tidal Ventures, a collaboration between Bord Gáis Energy and OpenHydro, is well placed to develop this 100MW tidal array in Northern Ireland by virtue of the expertise at its disposal. Bord Gáis Energy brings extensive experience in the financing and management of large-scale energy projects, from feasibility through to operation and maintenance phases.
OpenHydro is a DCNS company (the French naval defence company is developing its interests in marine renewable technology). Openhydro is a technology business that designs, manufactures and installs tidal energy systems. It has global experience in developing tidal projects, with the intention of providing a cost-effective source of renewable energy that is in harmony with the environment.
BENEFITS OF TIDAL FOR NORTHERN IRELAND
[caption id="attachment_6512" align="alignright" width="635"] Tidal Ventures' site off Torr Head[/caption]
Achieving Northern Ireland’s target of 40% by 2020 will ultimately depend on a blend of renewable technologies that include wind, wave, biomass and solar, all working in unison. Tidal will play a significant part in this mix and the project proposed for Torr Head would have the following unique benefits:
- Tidal energy is predictable: the electricity produced can be predicted for years in advance, and so tidal energy helps to improve the management of the grid;
- Tidal energy is invisible: devices would be fully submerged and not surface-piercing; and
- Tidal energy is environmentally benign: it is generally accepted that tidal technology has a low human and environmental impact.
Specific benefits of tidal energy for Northern Ireland include:
- A contribution towards the agreed 40% target for 2020, which will allow a higher penetration of renewable generation on the NI system. This will also contribute to an increased security of energy supply;
- Tidal energy technologies have a relatively small footprint compared to other renewable technologies; and
- The successful development of tidal will position Northern Ireland at the forefront of the tidal energy industry. This in turn will lead to opportunities for the development of R&D expertise in this field. It will help secure Northern Ireland’s position in the emerging offshore supply chain, for example providing local employment opportunities.
The proposed development under consideration will require a number of marine and terrestrial permissions. Below the low-water mark, the proposals will be subject to marine licensing under the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009. This process is managed by the Department of the Environment (DoE) Marine Division. For the terrestrial work, above the low-water mark, relevant electrical infrastructure will be subject to planning permission from the DoE (NI) Planning Service.
The construction and operation of any generating station over 10MW, and the transmission of electricity, requires Article 39 consent from Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment DETI (NI) under the Electricity (Northern Ireland) Order 1992.
All three permissions will need to be supported by the submission of an environmental statement. A memorandum of understanding has been agreed between DoE and DETI, which establishes a framework for streamlining the planning, marine licensing and consent application process with one environmental statement required to cover all three pieces of legislation. Tidal Ventures is working closely with all three stakeholders to facilitate the passage of the proposed development application through the consents process.
Substantial effort has already been made by government agencies in Northern Ireland in getting tidal energy to its current stage in the overall development process – in particular, in terms of the establishment of key policy frameworks and legislation that facilitate offshore development. However, one of the most significant risks to the delivery of the overall project involves access to the grid.
This is due to uncertainty regarding the connection method and application process, which is currently subject to a regulatory consultation process and the time required for the design, permitting and construction of transmission scale electrical infrastructure. Tidal Ventures is working closely with system operators and regulatory authorities to address these issues and are confident that a way forward will be agreed in due course.
Another significant challenge facing any tidal developer is the ability to carry out the range of offshore surveys required to inform both the environmental impact assessment and detailed design processes and the costs involved. Tidal Ventures is confident that this challenge can be overcome with comprehensive procurement practices and considered project programming.
Tidal energy development of this kind is a relatively new concept. Projects such as these can easily build up a negative community response if local concerns are not listened to or addressed. Tidal Ventures recognised the importance of engaging with the local community in North Antrim from project inception and initiated an extensive consultation programme to engage with a range of stakeholders in a real and meaningful way.
Fishermen, in particular, have a unique set of needs and this was acknowledged at an early stage by Tidal Ventures with the appointment of a fisheries industry representative to act as an information conduit between the project and the local fishing community.
[caption id="attachment_6515" align="alignright" width="1024"]
Torr Head (image by Will Bakker)[/caption]
The Tidal Ventures team has been extremely busy in the nine months since the announcement by the Crown Estate of the successful bidders in their Northern Ireland offshore leasing round. A scoping exercise has been undertaken in consultation with key stakeholders and the regulatory authorities.
Offshore bird and mammal surveys commenced in July of this year, following agreement with relevant statutory consultees on an appropriate survey design. These are scheduled to continue on a monthly basis for at least a full 12 months. Acoustic doppler profiler instruments were deployed in June to acquire measurements on the nature of the tidal currents and waves offshore of Torr Head.
The proposed Torr Head tidal array of 100MW will make a significant contribution to the Northern Ireland target of 40% of energy generation from renewable sources by 2020. Tidal Ventures is now in a position to support the attainment of this challenging target and, at the same time, enable Northern Ireland to become a world leader in the tidal industry and oversee the development of a significant local supply chain.
Returning to Brutus, his words appear to be apt in this context: “On such a full sea are we now afloat. And we must take the current when it serves or lose our ventures.”
For more information, contact Shane Quill at OpenHydro, Greenore, Co Louth. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org or phone: 087 7377421.