The first SeaGen generator was installed in Strangford Narrows between Strangford and Portaferry in Northern Ireland, UK in April 2008 and was connected to the grid in July 2008. It generates 1.2 MW for between 18 and 20 hours a day while the tides are forced in and out of Strangford Lough through the Narrows. Strangford Lough was also the site of the very first known tide mill in the world, the Nendrum Monastery mill where remains dating from 787 have been excavated.
Marine Current Turbines, the developer of SeaGen, demonstrated first prototype of tidal stream generator in 1994 with a 15 kilowatt system in Loch Linnhe, off the west coast of Scotland. In May 2003, the prototype for SeaGen, 'SeaFlow', was installed off the coast of Lynmouth, North Devon, England. Seaflow was a single rotor turbine which generated 300 kW but was not connected to the grid. SeaFlow was the world's first offshore tidal generator, and remained the world's largest until SeaGen was installed.
SeaGen generator weighs 300 tonnes. each driving a generator through a gearbox like a hydro-electric or wind turbine. These turbines have a patented feature by which the rotor blades can be pitched through 180 degrees allowing them to operate in both flow directions – on ebb and flood tides. The power units of each system are mounted on arm-like extensions either side of a tubular steel monopile some 3 metres (9.8 ft) in diameter and the arms with the power units can be raised above the surface for safe and easy maintenance access. The SeaGen was built at Belfast's Harland and Wolff's shipyards.
SeaGen has been licensed to operate over a period of 5 years, during which there will be a comprehensive environmental monitoring programme to determine the precise impact on the marine environment.
During the commissioning of the system a software error caused the blades of one of the turbines to be damaged. This left the turbine operating at half power until autumn 2008. The incident is being investigated and MCT is confident that it will not happen again. Full power operation was finally achieved on 18 Dec 2008.
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- First connection to the grid
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