Hydropower Turbines to Protect Ecosystems
A revolutionary new design in turbine technology for hydropower plants is almost ready for commercial deployment. The Alden Fish-Friendly Turbine has stirred great expectations for nearly everyone in the industry, promising to reduce fish injury and mortality while effectively maintaining power production.
While hydropower currently accounts for only 7 percent of the nation's electricity generation, it has tremendous potential. As with most renewable forms of energy, however, the technology is still relatively new and has other obstacles to overcome before it becomes a commercially viable option. The industry's main challenge has been developing a turbine system that minimizes disruption to sensitive ecosystems and marine life. So far, bypass technologies have been employed to help fish pass through the system unharmed, but are expensive and require a significant amount of power.
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After over a decade of support from the Energy Department, scientists at the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) recently released the results of the first prototype test results of the Alden turbines. With a 98 percent survival rate for fish under 8 inches long and 99 percent survival rate for eel and sturgeon, the new turbines effectively maintain power production and are low enough in cost to give them significant export potential.
The EPRI is confident that these new designs will enable the ecologically-responsible development of thousands of megawatts of hydropower resources. However, the project still requires a three year demonstration and testing phase before it is ready for the market. If the results continue to hold true to the EPRI's findings, it has the potential to open hundreds of existing water power projects across the U.S.
Major move forward for UK’s nascent marine energy sector
Although the industry is small and the technologies are limited, marine-based energy systems look to be taking off as “the world’s most powerful tidal turbine” begins grid-connected power generation at the European Marine Energy Centre.
At around 74 metres long, the turbine single-handedly holds the potential to supply the annual electricity demand to approximately 2,000 homes within the UK and offset 2,200 tonnes of CO2 per year.
Orbital Marine Power, a privately held Scottish-based company, announced the turbine is set to operate for around 15 years in the waters surrounding Orkney, Scotland, where the 2-megawatt O2 turbine weighing around 680 metric tons will be linked to a local on-land electricity network via a subsea cable.
How optimistic is the outlook for the UK’s turbine bid?
Described as a “major milestone for O2” by CEO of Orbital Marine Power Andrew Scott, the turbine will also supply additional power to generate ‘green hydrogen’ through the use of a land-based electrolyser in the hopes it will demonstrate the “decarbonisation of wider energy requirements.”
“Our vision is that this project is the trigger to the harnessing of tidal stream resources around the world to play a role in tackling climate change whilst creating a new, low-carbon industrial sector,” says Scott in a statement.
The Scottish Government has awarded £3.4 million through the Saltire Tidal Energy Challenge Fund to support the project’s construction, while public lenders also contributed to the financial requirements of the tidal turbine through the ethical investment platform Abundance Investment.
“The deployment of Orbital Marine Power’s O2, the world’s most powerful tidal turbine, is a proud moment for Scotland and a significant milestone in our journey to net zero,” says Michael Matheson, the Cabinet Secretary for Net-Zero, Energy and Transport for the Scottish Government.
“With our abundant natural resources, expertise and ambition, Scotland is ideally placed to harness the enormous global market for marine energy whilst helping deliver a net-zero economy.
“That’s why the Scottish Government has consistently supported the marine energy sector for over 10 years.”
However, Orbital Marine CEO Scott believes there’s potential to commercialise the technology being used in the project with the prospect of working towards more efficient and advanced marine energy projects in the future.
“We believe pioneering our vision in the UK can deliver on a broad spectrum of political initiatives across net-zero, levelling up and building back better at the same time as demonstrating global leadership in the area of low carbon innovation that is essential to creating a more sustainable future for the generations to come.”
The UK’s growing marine energy endeavours
This latest tidal turbine project isn’t a first for marine energy in the UK. The Port of London Authority permitted the River Thames to become a temporary home for trials into tidal energy technology and, more recently, a research project spanning the course of a year is set to focus on the potential tidal, wave, and floating wind technology holds for the future efficiency of renewable energy. The research is due to take place off of the Southwest coast of England on the Isles of Scilly