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CASE STUDY Marine Current Turbines: Tidal change for marine energy

Marine Current Turbines (MCT) is a leading innovator in marine current and tidal stream energy. The company installed the world’s first offshore tidal turbine, “SeaFlow”, off the coast of Devon in May 2003 and then completed the installation and commissioning of the first commercialscale tidal turbine, the 1.2-mw “SeaGen”, in Strangford Narrows in Northern Ireland in 2008.

MCT’s next project is for a tidal energy farm off the coast of Anglesey in an area of fast-fl owing open sea known as the Skerries. The company plans to take the project forward as a joint-venture with npower, a UK energy provider, through a newly created development company, Sea Generation Wales Ltd. MCT has also signed an agreement with Canada’s Minas Basin Pump and Power to harness the huge tidal currents of the Bay of Fundy in Nova Scotia.

In the longer term, MCT plans to develop a 99-mw tidal farm in the waters around the Orkney Islands—enough power for nearly 100,000 homes. It is also planning a scheme of a similar size off the Antrim coast in Northern Ireland in partnership with ESB International. All of these projects require significant levels of investment.

One of the main advantages of marine currents is that they are a low-carbon energy resource capable of making a significant contribution to the electricity grid, while reducing the industry’s carbon emissions. A 2006 Carbon Trust report estimated that tidal stream energy could meet 5% of the UK’s electrical energy needs, thereby reducing its dependence upon carbon-intensive imported fossil fuels. Technology and development costs are estimated at £100m, which puts tidal energy on a par with offshore wind machines.

Founded: 2002
Chief executive: Martin Wright
Ownership: The Carbon Trust, EDF Energy, BankInvest, ESB International, Guernsey Electricity, Triodos Bank, venture capitalists, founders, private investors
Revenue: Pre-revenue
R&D/working capital spend: £38m

In addition, tides are more predictable than wind and, as SeaGen has demonstrated, twice as productive in terms of the amount of electricity generated.

MCT, which has 18 employees, has two primary interests: technology development and commercial project development and installation. The company has so far raised £38m in combination grants and equity from its investors, which funded the development and installation of MCT’s prototypes and has enabled the company to get to where it is today.

MCT’s Managing Director, Martin Wright, is passionate about developing an efficient and reliable means of capturing the kinetic energy in the sea and believes the market could be huge: in the UK alone, marine turbines could produce annually around 3 gw of power, worth around £12bn. “That means our R&D doesn’t stop. We are concentrating on developing the technology, working out how we can commercialise the technology and looking at installation costs, which we want to drive down as soon as we can.” However, he explains, “because there is no clear market signal at the moment in the UK, we are doing the initial project development, but MCT should not take the project risk in future. So our approach is to develop the technology, and the initial stages of projects, in order to bring in a suitable balance-sheet investor to take it on from that point.”