Fair Head Tidal say their planned 100 MW turbine installation off the North Antrim coast will produce enough power to satisfy the demands of 70,000 homes.
What this implies is that the turbines will have about a 25% efficiency which is comparable to the output of wind turbines. Except of course the building and running of these underwater generators is bound to be much more expensive than installing and operating onshore wind turbines.
The advantage of Fair Head machines is that they can be guaranteed to produce electricity every day unlike the weather dependent wind turbines though the generation will presumably fluctuate with the ebb and flow of the tides. Nevertheless that predictability should make them more attractive than wind generators, one would have thought.
As a developing technology however Fair Head Tidal’s turbines will still require a fairly substantial ongoing subsidy - bigger than what onshore wind currently gets. Who is going to provide it? The company should be eligible to apply for the new system of support promoted by the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) in London which comes in the shape of Contracts for Differences. But will Northern Ireland even be part of that system which is not serving us well? It is not inconceivable that Northern Ireland will step away from the DECC programme. In that scenario where would the money come from to subsidise Fair Head’s turbines?
Is it really plausible that the Executive would fill the breach given that over the next year or so, it does not look as if Stormont will be offering any mainstream scheme to support the production of renewable energy?
A solution to this problem would arrive if we were to throw our lot in with the Republic and operate whatever subsidy system they offer. That makes a lot of sense but is not yet Stormont policy.
The Fair Head Tidal operation is an exciting proposition but it would be interesting to hear how its backers think they can attract public funding that one would assume is necessary for a profitable operation.
Last updated on 11/05/2016