A major new tidal energy power plant could be up and running off the coast of Northern Ireland by 2018, following an agreement between ESB International and Marine Current Turbines (MCT) to develop the project’s initial phase.

ESBI, the international subsidiary of Ireland’s ESB, and MCT say that they will work together to develop up to 100 MW of capacity off the coast of Antrim using MCT’s SeaGen technology. They plan to submit a proposal for the project to an upcoming Marine Leasing Round being held by the UK’s Crown Estate.

The project underlines the growing commercial interest in tidal energy, according to MCT, which has been operating a SeaGen tidal stream turbine in Strangford Lough, Northern Ireland, since April 2008. “Our agreement with ESBI, which has been a valued shareholder in MCT for two and a half years, confirms MCT’s tidal technology at being in the forefront in the race to harness the power of tides,” said Martin Wright, managing director of MCT.

Northern Ireland has set a target of achieving 300 MW of installed tidal energy capacity by 2020.

If the two partners are granted a licence and consents for the project, the initial phase could be in operation by 2018. ESBI says that it is currently preparing an environmental scoping report on the project and will later undertake a full environmental impact assessment.

MCT’s 1.2 MW SeaGen device is the largest and most powerful tidal stream turbine in the world and has also been accredited by the UK’s energy industry regulator Ofgem. The turbine installed at Strangford Lough delivered its 2-millionth kWh of power to the grid in August, and regularly produces as much electricity as an average offshore wind turbine of double the rated power, says MCT.