How this FastBlade could carve a future for tidal energy
Testing center aims to be a breakthrough for the uncrowned king of renewables.
(A native of England, Matthew Diebel is a veteran journalist who has worked at NBC News, Time, USA Today and News Corp., among other organizations. Having spent his childhood next to one of the world's fastest bodies of water, he is particularly interested in tidal energy.)
It’s the perfect renewable. Unlike hydro, where rivers dry up, and solar, where the sun stops shining, and wind, where the breezes stop blowing, the tides “wait for no man.”
Except tidal energy is extremely difficult to harvest. First, the forces that make it so desirable are enormous, meaning that undersea turbines have to withstand extreme strains. In addition, the machinery is operating in salt water, meaning constant corrosive forces.
But now some good news for those who see tidal and wave technology as a complete solution to the world’s energy needs (while also not scarring the landscape with massive arrays of windmills and solar panels): The University of Edinburgh in Scotland’s capital, has opened a $5.64 million facility in nearby Rosyth that can test tidal turbine blades under strenuous conditions, with those behind it hoping it will accelerate the development of marine energy technology and lower costs.
In a news release, the university said that its machinery, called FastBlade, is capable, in less than three months, of simulating the stresses placed on the structures during two decades under water, adding that “It replicates the complex forces to which tidal turbines are exposed at sea using unique digital and hydraulic technology systems developed by engineers at the University of Edinburgh.”
The location is very appropriate because Scotland has become the world’s biggest center of tidal energy, with its northern coast and the Orkney and Shetland islands becoming home to several projects that harvest the sea’s energy. One of them is the Orbital O2, which is a floating turbine being tested off the Shetlands. Another is the more conventional MeyGen tidal stream owned and operated by Simec Atlantis Energy (SAE-GB), which consists of four 1.5 MW turbines. In the next phase of development, 49 more turbines with a total capacity of 73.5 MW are planned.
A fine single malt is surely in order.