The European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC) has successfully deployed the prototype for an innovative new tidal power turbine at its Shapinsay Sound testing site in Scotland, as part of an EU-backed initiative to support the region-wide development of marine renewable energy.
Spanish renewable energy firm Magallanes has been developing the ATIR since 2007. It consists essentially of a buoyant platform that harvests the energy of tidal currents whilst floating upon the waves.
The company has already tested preceding prototypes of the device in laboratory tanks and on rivers. The current trial, which makes use of a 1:10 scale prototype, marks the first occasion that its developers are testing the device in actual ocean conditions.
"This test project allows us to demonstrate the integrity and viability of the concept and its subsystems in a real sea climate, and help inform the construction of our 2MW floating platform to ensure a stable and optimal design," said company managing director Alejandro Marquis de Magallanes.
"One of the most important steps was to discover maintenance needs as well as gaining operational experience at sea."
Magallentes could avail itself of EMEC's world-class testing site via the EU's Marine Renewables Infrastructure Network (Marinet) project, which seeks to foster the development of marine renewable energy by funding devices during their testing period, from the use of small models and laboratory experiments to open sea trials of prototypes.
The initiative covers 12 countries and 42 marine testing facilities across a full range of scales. EMEC is one of just 28 partners participating in the project.
"We are grateful to the Marinet project for enabling Magallanes to benefit from that access to the test site," said EMEC's client relationship manager Eileen Linklater. "Accessible real sea testing allows marine energy developers and suppliers to learn extremely valuable lessons about working in a real sea environment more cheaply."
Magallenes is currently working on the construction of a full-scale prototype, which will measure 42 metres in length and weigh 350 tonnes.
Despite the EU backing for marine renewable energy in the form of Marinet, the technology remains at an early and tentative phase of development.
The technology has recently been on the receiving end of some major setbacks in Europe, with Britain's leading marine energy company, the 16-year old Pelamis Wave Power, entering administration after failing to obtain sufficient funding for the further development of its Energy Converter, and Siemens withdrawing from marine energy with the sale of its Marine Current Turbine.
Siemens said upon the sale of Marine Current Turbines that the technology was taking too long to become commercially viable and that it would only ever comprise a niche market for the company.
Backers of marine renewable energy say the technology is simply at a nascent stage of development during which setbacks are inevitable, pointing out that the the first ever wind farm, built by US Windpower in 1980, was considered a failure that eventually resulted in the company's demise.
According to EMEC, there are over 250 wave and tidal energy technologies currently under development, of which more than 50 are situated in the UK alone.