Sustainability Center

Marine Current Turbines SeaGen

Image provided by Marine Current Turbines, Ltd

Autodesk Helps MCT Turn the Tide

This is a story about innovative thinking, alternative power, and tides. It’s about a new technology that shows immense promise for the future, and it just so happens to work with something that covers two-thirds of the planet.

Peter Fraenkel is Technical Director at Marine Current Turbines Ltd (MCT), a United Kingdom company founded in October of 2000 that is developing a very promising technology for harnessing the power of tidal currents.

A former director at IT Power Ltd, Peter left to start the 15-person company for the sole purpose of developing and bringing this technology to fruition. And now he’s tantalizingly close. SeaGen, the commercial demonstrator, is almost ready, slated for an autumn 2007 installation in Northern Ireland’s Strangford Lough.

Water as Power

Like a submerged windmill, the tidal turbines will be driven by flowing water and placed in areas with high tidal current velocities, and unlike wind energy, these flows are totally predictable. Currently the turbines will be installed in sites with a water depth between 25 and 40 meters, though methods for deeper installation are being developed to take advantage of a larger number of sites.

“After installation, SeaGen will be connected to the national grid,” says Paul Jones of Marine Current Turbines. At 1.2-megawatt capacity, it will be the world’s largest tidal current device by a significant margin and will generate clean and sustainable electricity for approximately 1,000 homes. Jones estimates that “tidal power could eventually provide about 5 percent of the total electricity requirement of the U.K.”

The next step will be to install the submerged turbines in “farms” of about 10 to 20 in much the same way that wind turbines are set out in rows. Once the initial farms have proved themselves, there’s a potential for much larger deployments.

An environmental impact assessment has indicated that the technology should not offer any serious threat to fish or marine mammals. The rotors on SeaGen turn slowly at 10 to 20 rpm. A ship’s propellers, by comparison, typically run 10 times as fast. In addition, the risk of impact from SeaGen rotors is extremely small since virtually all marine creatures that swim in areas with strong currents are perceptive and agile enough to successfully avoid collisions with static or slow-moving underwater obstructions.

Brilliantly Built

Other concerns of underwater machinery are the twin problems of installation and maintenance. SeaGen is designed to be installed and maintained almost entirely without the use of costly underwater operations. The turbines and accompanying power units can be raised up above the water for maintenance from small service vessels.

SeaGen is a designer’s dream, with unique patented technology that creates huge advantages, from its above-water maintenance benefits to its modular characteristics that slash the lead time between technology investment and revenue realization.

Doing More with Less

“Autodesk® Inventor™ was the single design tool for the SeaGen system,” says Jones. “There’s no way we could have done it in the time available with such a small team without Inventor.”

And as it turns out, designing SeaGen with a skeleton crew wasn’t the only challenge Paul was craving. “I wanted to work for MCT because I wanted to get involved with sustainability. It’s incredibly worthwhile and rewarding.” And from the looks of it, it certainly seems like he chose the right place.