Tidal turbine maker bids to turn U.K. into a green Saudi Arabia

A British developer is bidding to build power turbines under the sea in Scotland in a contest for government contracts that starts Monday, aiming to prove for the first time that its technology is commercially viable.

Atlantis Resources Ltd. is among the companies vying for 290 million pounds ($363 million) of electricity-generation contracts the U.K. government is auctioning off. Winners will be notified between June and September and will get a firm price for the power they sell under a program meant to stimulate cleaner forms of energy.

If successful, the bid from Atlantis would signal that efforts to harness the energy of the oceans are starting to bear fruit, adding another alternative to the fossil fuels.

“Tidal power is what wind and solar were 15 years ago,” said Tim Cornelius, chief executive officer of the company with a market value of about 66 million pounds. “If you look at the relative starting time, we’re growing much faster.”

The company is up against offshore wind developers likely to bid in the auction, including EDP Renovaveis SA, Dong Energy A/S and Red Rock Power Ltd., which is owned by State Development & Investment Corp of China.

While wind turbines have become commonplace, machines that tap into tidal flows have mainly worked the experimental level and at a cost more than triple that of wind. To win in the U.K. auction against other technologies, the Atlantis turbines must reduce costs by almost 70 percent to roughly 100 pounds a megawatt-hour, within striking distance of the cost of nuclear and offshore wind.

Atlantis anticipates that mass-producing the machines in a factory due to open by 2019 would help slash costs of the machines that are now hand-crafted.

If costs can be contained, the industry’s potential is enormous. Ocean Energy Systems, an organization affiliated with the International Energy Agency, estimates that movement in the planet’s waters could generate 300 gigawatts of electricity by 2050 if harnessed properly. That’s the equivalent of 250 nuclear reactors.

Scottish authorities long have harbored bigger ambitions. Seven years ago, then First Minister Alex Salmond said wind and marine energy could turn Scotland into a “Saudi Arabia of renewables” and employ more than 20,000.

“It’ll be a huge challenge,” said David Collier, a project manager for Atlantis who has spent the past seven years scrutinizing every detail of their supply chain. “I think we can do it. Water is 800 times denser than air, so we can make our turbines much smaller than ones used for wind energy.”

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