Singapore set to be Asia tidal market gateway

We look at the reasoning behind why a partnership to create a new test base for tidal power in Asia has emerged between The Energy Research Institute at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore and the European Marine Energy Centre.

By Jason Deign on Dec 4, 2013

Could Singapore become a centre of tidal excellence in Asia? Despite an evident lack of major tidal resources, the Energy Research Institute (ERI@N) at the country’s Nanyang Technological University (NTU) seems to think so.

It has enlisted the European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC) in Orkney, Scotland, to help create a test facility that is undergoing feasibility studies now and should be up and running within a couple of years, according to EMEC’s newly appointed commercial director, Oliver Wragg.

The initiative actually makes a lot of sense, he adds. “There is not as powerful a resource in Singapore like there is in the UK,” he says. “But there is in other parts of Asia. Singapore is positioning itself as a gateway.

“It has a strong finance sector and strong regulation in terms of IP [intellectual property] protection, plus a reputation as a country that seeks to innovate. And there’s a strong maritime industry.”

In a press release, Koh Eng Kiong, programme director at ERI@N, confirmed that Singapore has ambitions to play a leading role in the development of Asian marine energy power markets.

“Cooperation with EMEC will be very beneficial in boosting the development of international markets and common standards," he said.

Strategic location

"With NTU’s strong expertise in sustainability research and its strategic location in Singapore, which acts as a gateway to Southeast Asia, this collaboration will also bring about the best between East and West.”

According to Wragg, Asian nations such as China, Japan, Indonesia and the Philippines could all become potential tidal markets. South Korea and China are both working on tidal projects.

The German company Voith chose South Korea as the location for its first prototype, a 110kW machine. It is now working with local clean energy company Renetec on a project called Sea Turtle Tidal Park, which when complete could boast 150MW.

Meanwhile Atlantis Resources, which is headquartered in Singapore, is actively engaged in a couple of Asian projects.

One of these, in the Gulf of Kutch in Gujarat, India, is said to be the biggest tidal array project in Asia, at 250MW. Atlantis has been working on the development since 2009 with the project owner, the Gulf of Kutch with Gujarat Power Corporation Limited.

Atlantis is also providing the turbine and onshore systems for China’s largest tidal current demonstration project, as part of a programme funded by China’s State Oceanic Administration (SOA).

Environmental performance

The tidal developer is planning to deploy an AR1000 turbine at a grid-connected test site near Daishan, in the East China Sea, next year, to provide the SOA with data on environmental performance, turbine efficiency and reliability.

ERI@N clearly sees an opportunity to contribute to projects such as these. While the Institute will tap into EMEC for advice on how to design and operate its marine centre, the lack of extreme tidal streams in Singapore’s vicinity will clearly limit the scale of the test facility.

Singapore tidal streams can achieve a peak rate of around two metres per second, about half of the rates seen at EMEC, which means the ERI@N facility will likely work at a quarter of EMEC’s scale.

Nevertheless, it should be able to provide valuable data on warm-water tidal operations, particularly regarding issues such as tropical seawater corrosion. Meanwhile, other countries in the region are looking to develop similar facilities.

Australia, for example, last year signalled an intention to create a test centre. Meanwhile EMEC has signed agreements with the Ocean Energy Association of Japan, Ocean University of China, Incheon Metropolitan City in South Korea and National Taiwan Ocean University.

For EMEC, the benefit of working closely with all these research centres is that it will help in sharing safe working best practices and developing common testing standards.

Standard approach

“There needs to be a standard approach to performance and resource assessment,” says Wragg. “It is important for these other testing centres to be aware of these standards so investors can compare test results at one centre with test results at another.

“We are very keen to share the experience and knowledge we have gained in the last 10 years.”

For the industry, meanwhile, the move is important in further marking the appetite for tidal generation in a region that combines energy demand with marine resource and investment capability.

Dr Narasimalu Srikanth, senior scientist and programme director for wind and marine renewable energy at ERI@N, says: "Generating energy from ocean tidal flow can be a vital part of future energy mix for Singapore and Southeast Asia.

“To demonstrate that tidal stream energy extraction is a viable option in tropical conditions, ERI@N has been focusing its research in tidal energy resource prediction and tidal turbine development.

“The applied research extends in maturing the developed technologies towards industrial needs through lab level and field level test bedding along with industrial partners."