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First The Pentland Firth – Next The Whole Marine Sector

One wave-breaking application for Atlantis Resources’ Solon tidal turbine is an off-grid data centre in the north of Scotland.

The GBP 400m (USD 660m) project being floated by the company would see a 150-megawatt (MW) aray of turbines installed in the Pentland Firth, located between the Scottish mainland and the Orkney Islands, powering a small city of computer servers housed on the island of Hoy.

One the surface, the project is a good fit: low temperatures in the region would help cool the energy-hungry banks of computers, while the Pentland Firth tides, which course through at up to 140kmh, could generate 10 – 20 gigawatts (GW) of renewable energy, according to Scottish government figures.

“The idea was born out of necessity – there is a fantastic [tidal energy] resource in the Pentland Firth, but everyone is well aware of the transmission constraints in the north of Scotland,’ states Atlantis chief executive Tim Cornelius.

“We realized that while you could go through the normal leasing process, it would be suboptimal to end up in a situation where you access to such a resource, but no way to evacuate the power,” he continues.

Two years ago, Atlantis began studying the transmission issue, including ways of “installing loads locally” within sectors that are known to be energy intensive. “Data centres are the ideal end-user,” says Cornelius.

“They provide a local load to which we could dispatch power, while also meeting the UK’s need for increased data-processing capacity. It’s a win-win for both sides.”

The concept has piqued the interest of several big industry names in renewable energy including Norway’s Statkraft, which in March invested USD7m to bolster Atlantis’ efforts to move the data-centre project forward.

Atlantis is currently in discussions with “several parties that are active participants in the data-centre space to determine the costings and local partner involvement.”

A formal announcement of the project’s lead-off phase – likely to entail 30MW of generating capacity – is foreseen “in the next couple of months”.

Although by scale it is something of a boutique project, the Pentland Firth data centre could be one of a number of regional projects that proves seminal to the marine renewables sector as it makes the leap from building technology prototypes to widespread commercial take-up, suggests Cornelius. “There is no doubt that the correct execution of the Pentland Firth projects is critical not just to Atlantis, but to the entire marine [renewables] sector,” he states.

“The investment community, the local stakeholders, the technology providers all need to see the first 50 – 100MW successfully deployed in a capex [capital expenditure] regime that is acceptable and returns good IRR [internal rate of return] to investors,” says Cornelius.

“That will be the catalyst to a much broader market to everyone playing in this space.”

He adds: “If the Pentland Firth works, it will open the door to projects in locations where we know there is excellent flow off the US, off Canada, off Korea, off Japan.”

 

Source: By Darius Snieckus, Recharge News
Story from Page 19, Issue 31 – 14 August 2009 edition of Recharge News