HOUSEHOLDERS on the Shetland Isles were not aware of it, but when they plugged in their kettles recently, they were sharing in a bit of history.

For the Shetland Tidal Array at Bluemull Sound, installed by Nova Innovation of Edinburgh, has become the world’s first tidal power array to be connected to a grid and deliver power on a commercial basis – to dozens of homes on the islands.

The achievement has been hailed by environmentalists and the renewable industry as a turning point in the development of marine power.

Nova had shown its technology could work with a single turbine which generated electricity in March. But the installation of second turbine that is also working to the grid proves that large tidal power arrays can and do work. Commercially viable tidal power is seen as something of a Holy Grail by the industry, since it is one of the few renewable energy sources that is entirely predictable – as one industry source once put it: “there will be tidal power available as long as the moon is in the sky”.

Thanks to the European Marine Energy Centre at Orkney, the new tidal array has already been thoroughly tested and approved for linking to a grid.

Shetland is not part of the UK National Grid, but has a local grid and this is the first time that a tidal power source has been connected to any sort of network.

That tidal power arrays have now been proven to work puts Scotland right at the forefront of potentially massive developments in marine energy.

Estimates of the worth of this form of renewables range as high as £120billion and Scotland is now set to capture a portion of that market.

Scotland is also in the enviable position of having the largest single amount of possible tidal power resources in Europe, with the seas off Shetland, Orkney, the Western Isles and Pentland Firth seen as ripe for development.

Indeed, the giant MeyGen tidal power array in the Pentland Firth is already being installed and that is seen as a game-changer for the renewable industry. Lang Banks, director of WWF Scotland said: “News that power has been exported to grid for the first time by a pair of tidal devices marks yet another major milestone on Scotland’s journey to becoming a fully renewable nation.

“With some of the most powerful tides in Europe, Scotland is well placed to lead in developing this promising technology, which will help to cut climate emissions and create green jobs right across the country.”

The blades for the two 100kw turbines installed so far in the Shetland Tidal Array were made locally by Shetland Composites, but the project is very much an inter- national concern, with Belgian business ELSA heavily involved.

Nova Innovation said the company has been at the forefront of tidal energy technology development.

The company said its commercially focused approach attracted the attention of Belgian renewable energy leader ELSA to partner with it on the Shetland Tidal Array.

Nova stated: “This pan-European partnership has enabled the delivery of a successful project that showcases the best in European co-operation.

“The project has 10 per cent EU content and has been delivered with more than 80 per cent Scottish supply chain content, demonstrating Nova’s commitment to local supply chain engagement.” Simon Forrest, managing director of Nova Innovation, said: “We are absolutely delighted to be the first company in the world to deploy a fully operational offshore tidal array. Deploying the second turbine truly sets us apart and showcases our technology. I would like to thank all of our staff, partners and suppliers for helping to make this vision a reality.”

Get this right and skills and technology honed here could be in demand across the world

By Jenny Hogan, director of policy, Scottish Renewables

NEWS that Nova Innovation’s turbines off Shetland have become the world’s first tidal array might have come as a surprise to many. Not so for those working in this fast-paced and exciting sector.

Marine energy – harnessing the power of our waves and tides – presents a challenge at which Scotland is excelling.

The collapse of two large wave power firms in 2014-15 meant a new path is being mapped for that sector – one which has a truly global, and truly impressive, potential.

For tidal power, however, the goal of producing electricity at scale for our National Grid is closer than ever. What Nova Innovation has done in Shetland is not the culmination of a process, but a significant milestone on the road to commercialisation.

Another project, MeyGen, has grabbed headlines in recent months, and is one of the largest consented tidal energy schemes in the world.

Other tidal energy projects are also developing fast. Scotland is already home to the European Marine Energy Centre: arguably the most advanced marine energy proving site in the world. Companies from as far afield as the USA, Australia and Russia have come to EMEC, in Orkney, to build, deploy and test their devices.

All those firms have their eye on the prize – tapping the world’s waves and tides to drive a new phase in our renewable energy revolution.

According to the International Energy Agency, marine energy could generate 20 to 80,000 Terawatt hours (TWh) of electricity from tides, currents and waves as well as changes in temperature and salt content. To put that in perspective, current global electricity demand is rated at around 17,500TWh.

Harnessing that potential presents an enormous opportunity for Scotland. Get it right, and skills and technology honed here would be in demand across the world, with all the economic and social benefits that would bring.

Scottish Renewables has been holding a marine conference for many years, and the announcement of Nova’s tidal array this week comes just a fortnight before the 2016 event kicks off in Inverness. Delegates and speakers at the event will debate the opportunities and challenges currently facing the wave and tidal industries while exploring the cutting edge initiatives in Scotland that are propelling the industry forward.

Among other topics we will examine Wave Energy Scotland’s work to accelerate the development of wave technology and hear what issues they will tackle moving forward, as well as how tidal developers are mitigating construction risks as we build the first tidal arrays. Delegates will also hear from industry leaders on their priorities for the year ahead in funding, planning and technology development.

There remains much to be done in marine energy, and many challenges which the numerous companies working in the sector must overcome.

But the prize remains enormous. And with the right policies in place, and the undoubted determination of those working in the sector today, Scotland can maintain its world lead and capitalise on both our natural and technological resources.