Intelligent Energy

Scots to blend whiskey with tidal power

Scots to blend whiskey with tidal power

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As clean energy enthusiasts nurse St. Patrick's Day hangovers, they may be happy to hear a Scotch plan for tidal energy. ScottishPower Renewables gets the go ahead for the world's largest tidal array, off the Isle of Islay.

As clean energy enthusiasts nurse St. Patrick's Day hangovers, they'll be happy to hear the Scots' plan to make Scotch via tidal energy. Or perhaps they'd rather not think of malt whiskey, or anything resembling it, this morning. I'll focus on the tidal power.

I wrote last week of plans for tidal 'kites' to harvest energy off Northern Ireland's coast. Up on the other side of the Irish Sea, another tidal endeavor—this one resembling an underwater wind farm—could also soon test the water for this emerging electricity source.

ScottishPower Renewables has received government approval for a 10-megawatt tidal project off Scotland's western coast. Sitting deep between the Isles of Islay and Jura, the array of ten 1-megawatt turbines would be the first of its kind. They expect installation to occur sometime between 2013 and 2015.

Deploying, maintaining and monitoring how the system fares might determine if others like it follow, and at the very least, help inform them of how better to venture under the surface. The company says it chose the Sound of Islay for the $64.5 million endeavor because it's sheltered from violent storms and waves and has strong, predictable tidal flows. There is also available grid capacity. The Guardian reports the tidal stream runs through the channel at about 6.7 miles per hour.

Philip Maxwell, chairman of the community-owned Islay Energy Trust, said the islanders were "delighted" by the project. "It's great, and there's a feeling on the island that the people own the project," he said.

....The trust's share will be reinvested in green energy projects on Islay, including subsidised solar photovoltaic panels and wind turbines, and may be used to fund offshore wind and marine power projects in the future. It may also experiment with electric cars.

ScottishPower hopes their project could eventually power all of the homes on Islay (an island with a very small population). And let's not forget the distilleries. Already Diageo, one of Islay's biggest Scotch producers, has signed an agreement to use the electricity in eight of its distilleries and malthouses.

Should the project present a smooth finish, the company will head even further north to Pentland Firth, where they aim to submerge 95 tidal turbines. Tidal power still has some aging to do, but it just might lessen the carbon footprint of this part of the world. The footprint their malted beverages leave on your liver is a different story.

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Image: ScottishPower Renewables

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Melissa Mahony

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Melissa Mahony has written for Scientific American Mind, Audubon Magazine, Plenty Magazine and LiveScience. Formerly, she was an editor at Wildlife Conservation magazine. She holds degrees from Boston College and New York University's Science, Health, and Environmental Reporting Program. She is based in New York. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure