Viewpoint: Securing Skills and Experience: The Route to Commercial Success for MHK

By David Appleyard

News that Atlantis Resources has struck a deal with Siemens to acquire the entire share capital of tidal stream technology company Marine Current Turbines Ltd (MCT) suggests there is no shortage of market optimism for future tidal stream energy development – or at least, market optimism for the right kind of tidal stream development.

MCT is among the most developed ocean energy technologies having had a 1.2 MW prototype machine installed in the Strangford Narrows off Northern Ireland since 2008. Since then, of course, the machine has generated around 10 GWh, clocking up a robust operational track record. Naturally, it is a long-term operational track record that is one of keys to attracting commercial finance to the emerging MHK sector. Certainly, developers have devoted considerable resources at test facilities in order to establish just that.

This latest deal includes MCT’s intellectual property portfolio as well as its designs – including those for its next generation 1 MW fully submerged SeaGen turbine – which has been won through considerable investment into R&D over more than 15 years.

Commenting on the deal, Achim Woerner, CEO Hydro & Ocean Power at Siemens Wind Power and Renewables Division, said: “We are pleased that Atlantis, one of the strongest players in the comparatively new segment of tidal stream, has acquired Marine Current Turbines. This will enable the areas of competence of Marine Current Turbines, in particular its engineering capabilities, to be retained.”

Indeed, this intellectual continuity is key to the future of tidal technologies which still require much expertise and experience to realise their potential as a world-changing renewable energy generation technology.

The move also creates one of the largest portfolios of tidal current power projects, adding six projects with a potential development capacity of 200 MW to an existing Atlantis project pipeline of some 600 MW. For example, the acquisition could revive the 10 MW Skerries Tidal Stream Array, planned for the coast off Angelsey in Wales, which had been suspended indefinitely by Siemens last year.

Again, this type of long-term development portfolio is important in establishing a pipeline of project continuity that will be required if tidal stream technologies are to establish a reputation as a credible source of generation in the decades to come.

It is also clear that, as with the wind sector before it, volume production is a key element of cost reduction for any emerging technology and MHK is no exception in the regard, though it may well benefit from experiences gained in the offshore wind environment.

This latest development follows the April finalisation of a construction contract with Lockheed Martin for the delivery of Atlantis’ new 1.5 MW AR1500 turbine. The contract will secure machines scheduled for delivery in Scotland in 2016 and includes the manufacture of the gearbox and generator.

Atlantis is of course the owner of MeyGen – the world’s largest planned tidal stream energy project to date – and in September, announced full funding for its first phase with – among other sources – £17.5 million (US$25 million) in the form of senior project finance funding. The first stage will see the installation of four 1.5 MW turbines, three of which are to be supplied by Andritz Hydro Hammerfest.

It seems then that while Atlantis is hardly the only game in town, it has succeeded in ticking a number of investor boxes, not least with its latest acquisition and the IP which goes along with that. And it serves as an example to demonstrate the importance of maintaining and nurturing hard-won engineering experience.

On a related note, it’s only a few short months until HydroVision International (HVI) — the world’s largest hydropower exhibition and conference – takes place in Portland, Oregon, in the USA, from July 14-17. Last year, Nashville, Tennessee, saw some 3,000 attendees at the event hailing from 56 different countries and we’re naturally hoping to see even more international delegates this year.

The link to MHK? While HydroVision International has always included marine hydropower content, this year the event will be co-located with the 10th annual Ocean Renewable Energy Conference where many of these key elements of MHK success are set to be explored and discussed.

Some of the great sessions on offer this year include Testing the Waters: Global Status Reports from MHK Test Centers and Perspectives on the Interface between Government and the MHK Community.

I’d like to extend a personal invitation and I’ll look forward to seeing you there.

David Appleyard
Chief Editor

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