Rise of the Sea Kites: The Holyhead Innovation that Could Change Tidal Energy

Tidal energy is beginning to grab media attention as we finally come to realise that we could just be underusing one of our most valuable assets. As a collection of islands with plenty of coastline, the UK is an ideal place to explore the possibilities of tidal power and with recent investments in places like Swansea Bay the future is certainly looking bright.

Compared to other technologies, wave and tidal energy production has lagged behind with research and development only surging forward in the last few years. We have been focused on more well-known technologies such as solar and wind without realising the potential beneath those waves.

But off the coast of Holyhead in North Wales, there are moves to install an altogether more ingenious technology. It’s called Deep Green and works using a series of underwater kites that move significantly faster than the sea current. These heavyweight kites are immersed some 15m below the surface but will be able to produce significant amounts of electricity even if that current strength is low. At least that’s the plan.

The project is the brainchild of Swedish firm Minesto and they have secured just under 10 million in European Union funding to give the underwater kites a try. Each device will weigh in the region of 7 tonnes and the first is expected to come online in the next 2 years.

Compared to the Swansea tidal project that is planned over the next few years, and could cost in excess of £850 million, the sea kite development is relatively small scale but shows how businesses and investment concerns are beginning to look more closely at how we generate electricity from the vast power of the oceans. The Minesto project is set to create 30 jobs initially but, if successful, could see Anglesey becoming a centre of tidal power innovation in the years to come.

The problem with any new energy producing technology is the initial costs. Like most products on the market, the price comes down when something becomes more popular and there is adequate competition. The starting price per MW for the kite project would be £250 compared to the £100 per MW that we currently pay for nuclear generated electricity. Bringing that price down so that it becomes a viable option is going to be the major challenge for Minesto.

Fortunately, the company has a strong track record of research and development and say that the Deep Green project could change the way we use the seas around our shores. Each device essentially works the way that kites do in the air. If you attach a turbine to a kite it will revolve and create electricity. Underwater, the kite will move faster in the current much the same way that ones do in the air, generating more electricity than you would expect.

According to the company’s website: “The secret behind Deep Green is that it reaches a speed 10 times higher than the water current, just like the kite flies faster than the wind. The speed has a cubic relationship to the power; ten times higher speed gives 1000 times more power.”

Holyhead and Anglesey are also at the centre of plans to build a new nuclear power plant and the Anglesey Island Energy Strategy is expected to create some 2,500 jobs in the future – employment the council wants to stay in predominantly local hands. With this in mind, Menai College is investing some £20 million to make sure that people in the area have the necessary skills to take part in the energy revolution that is set to take part on this island off the north coast of Wales.