‘Olympic Ares’: installs tidal turbines off Gills bay

“Inner Sound is the world’s most high-profile tidal stream project”
— Atlantis RL CEO Tim Cornelius

Tim Cornelius, Atlantis RL’s CEO, said in late 2016 that he foresaw a long-term future for tidal stream electricity on a world stage.

The 40-year-old, whose adroitness and vision largely led to the 2016 start on harnessing the Pentland Firth for electricity, expressed confidence that tidal-stream generation costs can be significantly reduced, to match those from other “green” sources.

Those include the more “mature” technology of offshore wind, thus helping to make tidal stream electricity generation a sustainable, long-term, power-source for many of the world’s coastal nations in future.

Such future sub-sea power-stations would be based in hundreds — if not thousands — of widely-scattered, “near shore”, coastal channels and straits throughout the world, where sea-currents flow swiftly. There are at least 6,000 such sites internationally, with characteristics resembling the Pentland Firth’s Inner Sound, according to a recent study (Aquatera Consultants).

Those include several international sub-sea sites that that Australian-born entrepreneur’s “quoted” company has an active interest in developing, and expecting to partially use its “in house”-configured tidal turbines, of which there are two variants.

The tidal stream developments on their doorsteps are matters of great importance, even excitement, to the people living in scattered rural communities around Gills Bay.

For them, it should be a game-changer, helping to halt and then reversing the slow decline that has seen the population drop by two-thirds since the early 20th century.

Atlantis RL aims to prove that world-class technical and economic performance can be achieved from tidal-stream turbines emplaced in the Inner Sound, the open, narrow strait off the Pentland Firth’s deeper main international shipping channel. It lies in the midst of one of the planet’s windiest zones.

The firth’s main channel (4 to 6 miles out from Gills Harbour) has a depth 60-80 metres, but with geological fault-line trenches dipping vertically some 15 metres deeper.

When the Inner Sound Phase 1B project was awarded a 20 million Euros grant by the EU in early 2017, Mr Cornelius described MeyGen as “the World’s most high-profile tidal stream project”.

He added: “Demotide (i.e. Phase 1B) is the next significant step in delivering cost-effective, reliable, tidal stream electricity for Europe.”

Calling on the UK Government to seize the opportunity “to promote, stimulate and prioritise the creation of high-value jobs as it prepares for Brexit”, Mr Cornelius added: “Tidal stream must and will be part of the UK’s future energy mix.”

Mr Cornelius has come a long way since discussing the Pentland Firth’s energy possibilities with a couple of local engineers in the early 2000s, when he was working as a ROV pilot with offshore oil and gas engineers Subsea7.

Subsea7 operates an innovative, world-class heavy-engineering specialist pipeline fabrication yard for the international offshore oil and gas industry at Wester, near John O’Groats in Caithness. When it was founded in the early 1980s, its technology added some 25% to the world’s recoverable reserves of offshore oil and gas. Its R&D department there is still actively innovating and the company is a contractor in the development of SSE’s 558 MW Beatrice offshore wind farm, already under construction 10 miles off the south-east coast of Caithness.

But it is Mr Cornelius’s ability to persuade visionary individuals and corporations, with expertise in many related disciplines, to join Atlantis RL and blend them together into a focused team, that has enabled him to successfully drive his company forward to the stage that a long-term dream is rapidly becoming a reality — with much more yet to come.

Atlantis RL’s in-house designed AR 1500 turbine, as used in Phase 1A, involves a technology input from US “defence” giants Lockheed Martin. To complete the first stage, it purchased three turbine nacelles of Norwegian/Scottish design from Andritz, the Austrian-based group that specialises in manufacturing hydro-electricity turbines as European leader.

But for its Phase 1B, Atlantis RL intends using four of its 1.5 MW turbines designed by subsidiary Marine Current Turbines, the UK Bristol-based company that Atlantis RL purchased from German industrial giants Siemens in 2014.

Three separate types of ‘horizontal-axis’ tidal turbines will thus be active in the Inner Sound when the Phase 1B “demonstration mini-array” — or “Demotide” — is fully operational, expected during early to mid-2018.

Then it is on to the 73.5 MW of the real take-off of an Inner Sound power station, rather than small-size demonstration arrays. Atlantis RL states that this will start in two years’ time.

The low-cost and human safety enhanced Gills Harbour Inner Basin work-boat scheme should be in place by then. This is so that the entire Atlantis RL MeyGen site is able to reap the reward of this local price-reduction, as part of the overall necessary “cost-drop” for the Pentland Firth’s first sub-sea tidal stream power station.

Nigg role in Inner Sound development

All assembly works on the three turbine models has been/will be undertaken for the foreseeable future at Global Energy Group’s huge Nigg yard (Energy Park) within the Inverness commuter-belt, on the Cromarty Firth, a lengthy deep-water inlet of the sea in Easter Ross, Scotland.

There, states Atlantis RL CEO Tim Cornelius, it is creating export opportunities, whilst acting “as a shock-absorber for fabrication yards hardest hit by the downturn in the hydrocarbons industry”.

Atlantis RL also has important agreements with sea-going specialist contractors including the UK’s James Fisher Marine Services Ltd (JFMS), part of James Fisher & Sons plc of Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria, plus GeoSea of Antwerp, that operates one of Europe’s biggest fleets of heavy-duty “jack-up barges” and is part of Belgium’s DEME group.

This will allow the costs and operating efficiencies of the different turbine types to be tested against each other in real Inner Sound conditions, providing design engineers with real “reduce expenditure” targets and incentives.

The “turbine diversity” model is quite similar to Gills Harbour Ltd’s proposals back in 2009 to the Crown Estate — prior to the Pentland Firth seabed leases being allocated — that sought a 21st Century variant on the seminal 1829 Rainhill Trials, near Liverpool.

Back at the dawn of the railway era in the early 19th century, five recently-designed locomotive types were pitched in competition against each other. Only this time, it would be separate marine electricity-generating turbines being put through their paces, with the most efficient model being chosen.

Atlantis RL ambitiously aims to have 398 MW tidal stream generating capacity installed in its MeyGen Inner Sound site within the coming decade, with 269 tidal turbines installed there.


James Fisher Marine Services (JFMS) is the main provider of offshore operational support for the Inner Sound projects to date.

It charters workboats as needed, mainly from Orkney specialist sea-going marine engineering companies. Those are: Leask Marine Ltd (MD Douglas Leask) of Kirkwall; Green Marine UK Ltd (MD Skipper Jason Schofield) of Stromness and ROV (remote underwater vehicles) professionals Roving Eye Enterprises Ltd (MD Keith Bichan), of Scapa Flow, all with work-boats commonly seen at Gills in 2014-2016. Most of these vessels also have uses in Orkney’s multi-million pound aquaculture (mainly salmon-farming) industry and in sub-sea construction diving applications.

All of these experienced vessel-owing marine-support operators have been calling for upgrades at Gills Harbour and requesting a degree of urgency from the harbour body.

Not a single penny of public money has so far come to Gills Harbour Ltd since the mid-1980s. But in 2016, Transport Scotland’s Ports and Harbours section and local public jobs agency Highlands & Islands Enterprise, indicated that some funds would be forthcoming to upgrade what is clearly the premier workboat base on the mainland shores of the Pentland Firth.

However, its “seemingly preferred” concept investigated in detail by civil engineer Clifford Shepherd, GHL’s vice-chairman, would have provided only fair-weather work-boat access and not safe overnight quayside mooring, as the multi-cat operators desire/demand.

The whole of Gills Harbour is built on a near-horizontal Devonian-era sandstone/flagstone (sub-sea) bedrock base.

It has been deepened to an extent over the past three decades, but that rock-dredging has left underwater “ragged-edges” alongside the length of Gills Pier and along the harbour’s South Quay, with sharp underwater rocky “fringes”, typically one to two metres-wide.

Those hard-rock “edges” cannot (economically) provide a vertical face, but rather need a new pier/quay extension wall to be built to cover them, a minimum of 2 metres outwards from the line of these present harbour walls.

The Pentland Firth’s full power-station potential is widely publicised, and accepted, as having at least a capacity of 3,000 MW to 4,000 MW — twice that of the much-publicised, controversial, Hinkley Point C “pressurised water” nuclear reactor complex in Somerset. The latter will use imported, not UK-origin, technology and may be more expensive, say some industry experts.

Will pioneering installation vessel have Pentland Firth dream-boat role?

In May 2016, JFMS took control of technology multiple award-winning engineers/consultants Mojo Maritime Ltd of Falmouth, Cornwall, retaining Captain Richard Parkinson as its MD. He is one of the few top tidal stream electricity executives with personal seaborne experience of regularly sailing though the Pentland Firth, in most weather and tidal conditions.

Capt Parkinson gained familiarity with transiting the Pentland Firth in stormy winter sea-states as Master of anchor-handling tugs plying in the early 2000s from Aberdeen to the “Atlantic Frontier” oil and gas fields, lying under deep-waters to the west of the Shetland Islands.

JFMS’s Mojo Maritime arm continues to play a prominent role in marine operational management matters for Atlantis RL’s Inner Sound MeyGen site.

Capt Parkinson had earlier headed a multi-disciplinary commercial-sector and academic team doing key R&D work from Gills Harbour in Inner Sound waters.

This was during Mojo Maritime Ltd’s design phase for Hi-Flo Four (HF4), its “revolutionary” catamaran tidal-stream turbines installation and retrieval “concept” vessel.

Working from the decks of various chartered multi-cat workboats, HF4’s originators used advanced measuring sensors, such as ADCPs (Acoustic Doppler Current Profilers), to let them draft algorithms for controlling the dual DP (Dynamic Positioning) and propulsion Voith-Schneider driving units, fixed on each “corner” of the planned 55-metre twin-hulled vessel, which does not have a conventional steering rudder.

These algorithms are based on information gleaned from a real Inner Sound data-base and aim to keep HF4 “steady on station” in up to 10 knots (11 mph) of currents, such as there.
This is in contrast to the 3 knots capability that is usual for DP systems installed in heavy offshore oil and gas construction vessels used for deep-water operations. Such fields are usually many miles from coastlines, in the open ocean, where tidal flow-rates are minimal.

Mojo Maritime partnered German specialist drilling engineers Bauer AG in devising a ship’s bridge-controlled patented pile-boring (and grouting) kit. Mojo Maritime staff claim that this “aboard-ship” technology will be able to install and “hook-up” as many as 50 tidal stream turbines per year, an unprecedented rate that may not be otherwise achievable.

The JFMS subsidiary’s directors state that this would represent “a major productivity advance in the safe and economic industrialisation of tidal electricity”.

Capt Parkinson has been regularly urging GHL to get on with upgrading its Inner Basin to make it more suitable for round-the-clock, safe, quayside mooring for powerful, little work-boats, such as 24 metre multi-cats, which typically cost £3.5 million each as new-builds.

The one-time Merchant Navy captain-cum-entrepreneur knows Gills Harbour well and has lobbied on GHL’s behalf and is understood to have discussed possible marine renewables use of its newly-installed 70 metre “offset” breakwater/berth with Pentland Ferries Ltd’s MD Andrew Banks OBE. This would be for larger tidal stream construction vessels needing the (minus) 6 metres of water at low tides there.

Bibby’s key link-up operation

Bibby Line is one of Britain’s most venerable shipping and marine-related companies, a family firm employing 3,500 worldwide, with roots dating back over 200 years to 1807.

During the past decade, it consolidated its interests in offshore oil and gas through subsidiary Bibby Offshore, established at an Aberdeen base. It has diversified into marine renewables in more recent years and in late 2016/ early 2017 had a key role in Inner Sound operations for Atlantis RL.

Bibby Offshore operates the 7,888 tonne, 116 metre-long heavy offshore construction vessel Olympic Ares whose versatility has been demonstrated by successfully installing the turbine “nacelles” on to the upright steel support columns that had been pre-placed on the Inner Sound’s seabed in late 2016 from the Belgian jack-up barge Neptune. The columns are held vertically in place by large steel ballast weights, fabricated in Caithness by JGC Engineering, of Halkirk.

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