The team behind the large tidal energy turbine in Strangford Lough has won the go-ahead to pursue another commercial-scale project there.
The Crown Estate, which manages the seabed, yesterday announced it had agreed seabed rights for new demonstration zones and project sites around the UK coastline.
Siemens-owned Marine Current Turbines Ltd (MCT), which operates the SeaGen turbine at Strangford Lough, has secured what is known as agreements for lease (AfLs) for three new commercial-scale tidal projects. They are at the Mull of Galloway in Scotland, Portland Bill in England and Strangford Lough.
The company has been granted a period of five years to examine the viability of the scheme, but won't necessarily get full permission to proceed.
It is understood that MCT proposes to build an array of permanently submerged devices that would not be visible on the surface and would not pose a hazard to navigation.
SeaGen would remain in place under licence for the five years of the investigation process and would then be decommissioned.
The decision over whether the new project will actually go ahead will be made by the Regulator, advised by the Strangford Science and Liaison Group, and a full environment impact assessment will be required.
The project will have a capacity of up to 20MW of electricity, coming from up to 20 turbines, and will use the next generation of SeaGen technology.
MCT is already in discussion with a number of prospective partners to co-develop its projects. The target date for installation for the MCT projects is 2020/21.
This date is dependent upon the project's economic viability following detailed site assessment and after securing all the required consents.
Rob Hastings, director of energy and infrastructure at the Crown Estate, said: "By providing these additional seabed rights we are pleased to be enabling further technology development and commercialisation, which will be critical if the UK is to unlock its significant natural resources for wave and tidal current energy."
Sven Stoye, chief executive officer of MCT, said: "The decision to push forward with developing commercial-scale projects demonstrates Siemens' commitment to the tidal sector and our confidence that there will be a future market for its SeaGen technology.
"Securing these new AfLs is an important first step in investigating the sites as part of the wider development process."
RenewableUK's wave and tidal development manager Dee Nunn said the announcement marks the beginning of a significant expansion of the UK's capacity to harness its excellent wave and tidal energy resources.
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The 1.2MW SeaGen device was deployed by Marine Current Turbines Ltd in Strangford Lough in 2008. It has the capacity to generate electricity for the equivalent of about 1,500 homes. SeaGen works in principle much like an "underwater windmill" with the rotors driven by the power of the tidal currents rather than the wind. A sonar device stops the blades turning when a marine animal strays too close.