China is switching on its first-ever utility-scale tidal turbine, following installation by energy giant China Three Gorges (CTG) of a flagship unit designed by UK technology developer Simec Atlantic Energy.

The 500kW device, based on Atlantis’ AR1500 machine used at Scotland’s pioneering MeyGen tidal power project, was built by the China Shipbuilding Industry Corporation at its Wuhan facility and deployed between the islands of Putuoshan and Huludao in the Zhoushan archipelago.

The installation, fast-tracked in under 18 months despite the industrial slow-down caused by the coronavirus outbreak in Hubei region, opens the door to China tapping a tidal energy resource estimated at over 8GW.

“The quick mobilisation and execution of this project, from concept to installation, represents a phenomenal feat of engineering that bodes well for a rapid future roll-out of this technology, significant supply chain expansion and associated cost reductions,” Atlantis CEO Tim Cornelius told Recharge.

“The success of this project is made all the more impressive given the extraordinary circumstances in which the turbine was manufactured,” he added. “CSIC’s facilities in Wuhan have in recent months had to deal with being at the centre of the outbreak of the coronavirus and have dealt with the logistical challenges that this presented with extreme professionalism.

“Despite following all government advice concerning social distancing and regulations concerning manufacturing facilities, CSIC have pulled it off, with the turbine now fully installed.”

China is battling to cut coal-fired power generation as the fossil fuel accounts for close to 60% of the country’s overall current energy consumption. Wind and solar power build-outs are leading the Asian superpower’s energy transition, with 210GW and 110GW, respectively, targeted by 2025, but tidal stream energy is thought capable of supplying some 8.2GW to the country’s grid.

“The natural resource and commercial opportunity China holds for this industry cannot be overstated. This opening up of a vast international market will have profound implications for supply chain and cost reduction developments, which will be felt across the entire renewables and wider energy sector,” said Cornelius.

Atlantis is currently developing the second, 80MW stage of its up-to-400MW MeyGen tidal array in the Pentland Firth off northern Scotland, with plans to supply power to a data centre in what is claimed to be another global first for marine energy, along with projects off France, Indonesia and Japan.

“MeyGen has provided us with the operational experience and performance data to export our expertise and technology to the world and has demonstrated the true potential of tidal energy and has de-risked the market to the extent that we are now expanding internationally,” said Cornelius.

MeyGen is the flagship of Simec Altantis renewable energy portfolio, but the company, which was formed from the merger of Simec Energy and Atlantis Resources in late 2017, is also developing projects including a “multi-hundred-megawatt” tidal array off France that is being positioned to power the island of Alderney.

Last year, Simec Atlantis also signed a partnership deal with US power technology giant GE to develop commercial-scale tidal power around world, using a 2MW version of the AR1500.

“Over the past two years we have been hard at work expanding our global portfolio of tidal projects: from our tidal array development activities in Normandy, France to supporting the development of the Nautilus tidal energy project in Indonesia, and most recently, we have also announced that we are supplying tidal generation equipment and offshore construction services for a tidal demonstration project in Japan.”

“We hope that our continued expansion into new markets will spur the wider industry to recognising the new pools of investment opportunities that are available,” he inah.

Despite a global potential estimated as large as 300TW , tidal power remains an industry in its infancy, with Atlantis one of the few developers championing the sector. Along with various flagship projects dotted about the globe, UK outfit Sustainable Marine Energy and Canada’s Minas Tidal have agreed to co-develop their test berths at the Fundy Ocean Research Centre for Energy in the Bay of Fundy off Nova Scotia, as a 9MW project, creating the largest in-stream tidal array in North America so far.