New tidal technology makes economic and climate sense

Renewable energy campaigners have today strongly urged ministers to consider the benefits of large-scale tidal range schemes to generate electricity and safeguard coastal communities as part of the UK’s low carbon future.

As the government prepares for COP26, the UN climate change summit in Glasgow later this year, experts argue that with sea levels predicted to rise, the benefits of tidal range technology should be utilised to harness predictable marine energy and at the same time protect Britain’s coastal environment.

Despite the fact that tidal range projects are a totally reliable and powerful source of electricity, since they produce energy four times a day from the rise and fall of the tide, there are currently no such schemes in operation in the UK.

Henry Dixon, chair of the British Hydropower Association’s Tidal Range Alliance, said: “The perception of tidal range schemes is seriously out-dated. Wind and solar farms are great, but the country cannot rely on the sun shining and the wind blowing day in, day out. Up-to-date construction methods and innovative turbine technology have reduced costs and boosted the amount of energy generated simply by capturing the changing tides.

“Tidal range is a no brainer in a world where the government is committed to net zero emissions by 2050. In the next 30 years, decarbonisation of heat, transport and energy will double demand on the National Grid. At the same time, fossil fuel and old nuclear plants are being phased out, so capacity will have to be redoubled to take into account the lower efficiency of renewable energy sources.

“Wind and solar farms have a life of about 25 to 30 years, so all of them will have to be rebuilt in 2050 just as demand is peaking. It makes economic and climate sense to add tidal lagoons into the energy mix.”

Several schemes are proposed including in Lancashire, Somerset, North Wales, Liverpool and Cumbria, meaning that tidal range could provide about 30 gigawatts of power around the UK by 2050, as well as tens of thousands of jobs in research, design, construction and operation, extended supply chain and in tourism, data centres and aquaculture.

A 120MW tidal power plant is in advanced planning stages at Fleetwood, Lancashire, which would generate enough energy to supply 100,000 energy efficient homes. It would take just 24 months to construct, providing up to 4,000 jobs during the planning, construction, and operational phases. The project has local support in an area of high unemployment.

Bob Long, CEO of Natural Energy Wyre, is in charge. He said: “If approved by the Secretary of State, this will be Britain’s first tidal generated hydro power plant, creating thousands of jobs and attracting up to 500,000 tourists a year. Given the amount of tidal energy available on the west coast, we must capitalise on this natural resource.”

He added: “Millions of pounds have been spent by government recently protecting coastal defences locally without protecting the flood plain next to the River Wyre, and without a tidal gateway as we are proposing, that money will have been wasted.”

After giving evidence to the Commons Environmental Audit Committee last week (Wed Jan 27th), Simon Hamlyn, chief executive of the British Hydropower Association, said: “With COP26 looming, it’s imperative that the government considers tidal range as an important part of the renewable energy mix. These schemes will last four times longer than a nuclear power station, are much more environmentally friendly, and will provide much needed coastal protection as sea levels rise.

“A tidal range project brings environmental benefits and significant economic wins – it provides additional sea defences, predictable renewable energy resource, thousands of jobs, no expensive decommissioning costs and in many cases tourist attractions in addition.”

The UK has the 2nd highest tidal range resources in the world. Each project is designed with an operating life of at least 120 years, as opposed to wind turbines which have a life span of 25 years, and 40 – 60 years for nuclear power stations which are more expensive and challenging to decommission.

Tidal range schemes can also store and release energy, moving generation by up to an hour, and can therefore match peak demands more closely.

Roger Falconer, Emeritus Professor of Water Engineering at Cardiff University, said: “As the climate emergency deepens, I am convinced that tidal range energy schemes offer considerable opportunities for the future generation of predictable renewable energy.

“Firstly, tidal energy can be forecast 50 years into the future, making this abundant resource around the UK particularly attractive to engineers and energy suppliers. Secondly, through the natural phasing of the tide around the UK coast, a tidal range scheme in the Bristol Channel, for instance, will produce maximum energy three to four hours ahead of any tidal range schemes from the North Wales coast to Morecambe Bay, giving predictable energy throughout most of the day and night.”

It’s more than a decade since the government last carried out a full assessment of tidal range power generation and since then technology and construction techniques have significantly improved.

Henry Dixon is also chair of North Wales Tidal Energy which has proposed a scheme stretching from Llandudno to Rhyl. The North Wales Tidal Lagoon would, if approved, generate enough electricity to power 90 percent of homes in Wales.

He said: “Regional support for our proposals in North Wales has been extremely encouraging. This is a region that has a long history of coastal flooding which, in recent years, has increased in frequency and severity. People appreciate that a tidal lagoon will help protect local businesses, communities and transport links.

“The facts around tidal generation have changed and the government’s thinking on this should change too. That’s why today, the British Hydropower Association is calling for ministers to establish a £20m fund to allow a full and up-to-date reassessment of the technology. There is an important place for this tried and tested technology in the UK’s low carbon energy mix and now is the time to conduct a proper reassessment of its potential.”