Sound of Islay

A breezy crossing over to Islay. The hypnotic movement of the wake.

The Sound of Islay is the 20 mile long narrows between the islands of Jura and Islay. With its 5 knot tides it has a notorious reputation, the graveyard of many shipwrecks, particularly around Glas Eilean, that small skerry in the left distance and the Black Rock just beyond1Pnnl.gov. (2021). Sound of Islay Demonstration Tidal Array | Tethys. [online] Available at: https://tethys.pnnl.gov/project-sites/sound-islay-demonstration-tidal-array [Accessed 13 May 2022]..

These fast tidal streams and relative shelter from wave action have attracted the attention of renewable energy developers. The Scottish Government approved plans for a 10MW scheme in 2011 but nothing seems to have come of that2News, B. (2011). Islay to get major tidal power scheme. [online] BBC News. Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-glasgow-west-12767211 [Accessed 13 May 2022]..

The latest scheme is a little less ambitious, 3MW, aiming to specifically satisfy the energy requirements of Islay’s and Jura’s ten whisky distillaries3Amos, I. (2021). World-famous Scotch whiskies from Islay and Jura set to go green with tide power. [online] Scotsman.com. Available at: https://www.scotsman.com/news/environment/world-famous-scotch-whiskies-islay-and-jura-set-go-green-tide-power-3121705 [Accessed 13 May 2022]..

The subsea turbines look very much like land wind turbines but sit on the sea bed in an array at a depth that does not create a hazard for shipping or for navigational — the depth in the Sound of Islay is up to 50m. Importantly they are said to “work in harmony with the marine environment”4Scottish Construction Now. (2021). Islay project to produce Scotch whisky by tidal power. [online] Available at: https://www.scottishconstructionnow.com/articles/islay-project-to-produce-scotch-whisky-by-tidal-power [Accessed 13 May 2022].. A similar project has been operational in the Pentland Firth since 20165SIMEC ATLANTIS ENERGY (2022). MeyGen – SIMEC ATLANTIS ENERGY. [online] SIMEC ATLANTIS ENERGY. Available at: https://simecatlantis.com/tidal-stream/meygen/ [Accessed 13 May 2022]..

There is an alternative tidal energy technology being developed — turbines that float on the surface but are anchored to the seabed. On the whole these are cheaper to maintain but do restrict shipping.

The most commonly cited problem with land based wind turbines is that the wind doesn’t always blow. Tides however follow a constant and predictable rythym. On the other hand, subsea engineering is expensive. But it must be part of the solution.

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