WINNING EU funding for a tidal farm off the coast of Orkney - set to be the biggest number of turbines anywhere in the world - is a “huge vote of confidence” in Scotland, the firm behind the project has said.

However Simon Forrest, chief executive of Nova Innovation, has warned while the country is leading in the technology, it risks falling behind in international competitiveness as it takes too long to get projects under way.

The new project, titled Seastar, will feature 16 turbines that will be installed offshore Orkney by 2026.

It is expected to generate four megawatts, enough to power around 2000 homes and is being funded by €20 million from the EU’s Horizon Europe programme.

Speaking from Dubai - where he is at COP28, meeting with international companies and investors to discuss taking the technology around the world - Forrest told the Sunday National the bid had been enabled by investment from the Scottish National Investment Bank around two years ago, which meant the firm could start “planning further than just three or six months ahead”.

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“I think it would be fair to say that when we went for it, we felt we had a good chance certainly from a delivery point of view, reputation and so on,” he said.

“But for a company that is outside the European Union post-Brexit, we felt it was probably a bit of a long shot.

“But we wanted to go for it as we had delivered so well on previous European projects.

“So when we won it, we were absolutely over the moon about it and I think it was a huge vote of confidence, not just in the [global] sector but in Scotland and the sector here.”

Tidal energy works in a similar way to wind farms, with a turbine rotating at a rate depending on tide strength, which then turns a generator creating electricity.

While Scotland – and the UK – have powerful tides which could be used as a resource, until now, developing the technology at scale has been a barrier.

Forrest (below) said: “If we are going back 10 years, the questions were can this be done - and we proved that the answer was yes.

“Then was it can it be done reliably - and our turbines are performing excellently, we have got the longevity, the reliability and the efficiencies. The next question is can this be done cost-effectively - the answer to that is an emphatic yes.

The National:

“We have already reduced the cost of it by 40% and that has really been through design and innovation and so on.

“But it comes to the point where you need scale. You need to get the economies of scale of manufacturing in multiples and really that's what this project does.”

He added: “It's 16 turbines - more than all the other turbines in the world put together, so it starts to give us the scale, bringing in the efficiencies, the cost savings of being able to manufacture.

“Instead of just ordering one part at a time, we can go out and speak to suppliers and say 'look, we are going to order sixteen of these, what deal can you do?'

“That all helps to continually drive down the cost.”

He said the potential for tidal energy is “huge” – and it could meet 11% of the UK’s current electricity demand.

“It's got a very significant role to play, not least because as we move to renewables, it's the only renewables that is completely predictable,” Forrest added.

“Sometimes the sun doesn't shine, the wind doesn't blow, but with the tide, it repeats itself every six hours.

“And you can plan to the minute and say what you're going to be generating a day from now, a week from now, five years from now.

“That has a very strong impact in terms of energy security and system stability.”

But he raised concerns about the length of time taken to get projects up and running in the UK, due to issues such as regulations and the Contracts for Difference (CfD) scheme, a UK Government support measure for large-scale renewable energy projects.

“As an example, if you and I decided today to do a tidal energy project in Scotland or the UK, the quickest we can do it because of regulations and CfD and so on, it's seven years before we can put a turbine in the water and generate and it’s more likely to be about nine years.

“In Canada, we did it in a little more than two and in France, we did it in a little more than three.

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“So the impact that has is that investors, when they're looking at you, they want to deploy their capital quickly and they are saying well, if you can do it more quickly in Canada or France, let's do it there rather than here in Scotland.

“We have a very clear technology lead and we have got some of the leading companies in the world.

“But we are falling behind in terms of international competitiveness, in terms of time to market, it just takes so long to get projects going here.”

Forrest said both the UK and the Scottish Governments could help and “strong political leadership” was needed to get behind the industry.

“What we need is long-term decisions to say this is going to happen, we are committed to it,” he added.

“It is really more of a political decision than it is a technology or engineering one. That's what really will make it happen.”