Pentland Firth Tidal Energy

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Written for Coursera (MOOC) Class ‘Ocean Solutions‘ by University of Western Australia (June 2014)

Location:  North Coast of Scotland (UK), near the town of Thurso on the Pentland Firth.

Marine Tidal Energy has great potential in this location and preliminary testing is progressing with promising results [1].

The Pentland Firth has been identified as one of the best locations for harnessing tidal energy in the world.  The Firth is a narrow stretch of ocean between mainland Scotland and the Orkney Islands [2].  The North Atlantic meets the North Sea at this point and the tidal flow through the Firth is very high.

MAP_Pentland Firth

The leading Tidal Energy devices are bladed turbines, similar in appearance and operation to Wind Turbines, which are mounted on the seabed [3].

Tidal energy is very regular and predictable, unlike wind power, and since water is much denser than air, smaller turbines can yield more energy underwater [4].  It has the added advantage of being less of a potential nusance, since the turbines are located underwater and out of sight, and do not generate much noise.

PIC_Pentland Tidal Diagram

Some disadvantages of tidal energy technologies are that they need to be robust enough to cope with the harsh marine environment, and are more difficult to maintain.  These aspects mean that construction and running costs are higher than land based technologies.

PIC_Pentland Wave Photo

A team of scientists from Oxford and Edinburgh Universities estimates energy output potential of between 1.9 – 4.2 GW (16 – 35 TWh annually) [5].  The oceans are an abundant source of renewable energy, which are under utilised at present [6].

Justification for choosing Tidal Energy in my location, is supported by the scale of this natural resource, together with the strength of international interest in developing marine tidal energy here.  The European Marine Energy Centre (the only facility of its kind in the world) is located on Orkney, and as well as facilitating testing on energy devices, it plays a leading role in developing international standards for the industry [7].

Harvesting energy locally is important for Energy Security, so that we are not reliant on imported power [8].

Tidal Energy in the Pentland Firth is one of several measures in the suite of technologies currently being researched and deployed throughout Scotland (and the UK), including onshore and offshore Wind Turbines, Solar PV, Wave Energy devices, and Geothermal plant.

Scotland is committed to producing 100% of its electricity (consumption) from renewables by 2020 [9].  In February of this year, the Scottish Government granted £4.8 million to marine energy projects [10].


[1] The Scotsman, ‘Pentland Firth tides ‘can power half of Scotland’, 20 January 2014.

[2] Tidal Energy EU, ‘Pentland Firth

[3] Meygen, Tidal Energy Turbine

[4] Environment: benefits of tidal 

[5] Green Energy Scotland

[6] Ocean Solutions: Lecture Materials, 3.0 Ocean Solutions 3.1.3 Energy Abundance

[7] European Marine Energy Centre, Orkney, Scotland

[8] Ocean Solutions: Lecture Materials, 2.0 The Challenge 2.1.3 Energy Security

[9] Scottish Government, ‘Renewables revolution aims for 100%’, 18 May 2011

[10] Scottish Government, ‘£4.8 million boost to marine energy sector’, 26 February 2014.

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