Rise of the Sea Kites: The Holyhead Innovation that Could Change Tidal Energy

Sea Kite

Tidal energy is beginning to grab media attention as we finally come to realise that we could just be underusing one of our most valuable assets. As a collection of islands with plenty of coastline, the UK is an ideal place to explore the possibilities of tidal power and with recent investments in places like Swansea Bay the future is certainly looking bright.

Compared to other technologies, wave and tidal energy production has lagged behind with research and development only surging forward in the last few years. We have been focused on more well-known technologies such as solar and wind without realising the potential beneath those waves.

But off the coast of Holyhead in North Wales, there are moves to install an altogether more ingenious technology. It’s called Deep Green and works using a series of underwater kites that move significantly faster than the sea current. These heavyweight kites are immersed some 15m below the surface but will be able to produce significant amounts of electricity even if that current strength is low. At least that’s the plan.

The project is the brainchild of Swedish firm Minesto and they have secured just under 10 million in European Union funding to give the underwater kites a try. Each device will weigh in the region of 7 tonnes and the first is expected to come online in the next 2 years.

Compared to the Swansea tidal project that is planned over the next few years, and could cost in excess of £850 million, the sea kite development is relatively small scale but shows how businesses and investment concerns are beginning to look more closely at how we generate electricity from the vast power of the oceans. The Minesto project is set to create 30 jobs initially but, if successful, could see Anglesey becoming a centre of tidal power innovation in the years to come.

The problem with any new energy producing technology is the initial costs. Like most products on the market, the price comes down when something becomes more popular and there is adequate competition. The starting price per MW for the kite project would be £250 compared to the £100 per MW that we currently pay for nuclear generated electricity. Bringing that price down so that it becomes a viable option is going to be the major challenge for Minesto.

Fortunately, the company has a strong track record of research and development and say that the Deep Green project could change the way we use the seas around our shores. Each device essentially works the way that kites do in the air. If you attach a turbine to a kite it will revolve and create electricity. Underwater, the kite will move faster in the current much the same way that ones do in the air, generating more electricity than you would expect.

According to the company’s website: “The secret behind Deep Green is that it reaches a speed 10 times higher than the water current, just like the kite flies faster than the wind. The speed has a cubic relationship to the power; ten times higher speed gives 1000 times more power.”

Holyhead and Anglesey are also at the centre of plans to build a new nuclear power plant and the Anglesey Island Energy Strategy is expected to create some 2,500 jobs in the future – employment the council wants to stay in predominantly local hands. With this in mind, Menai College is investing some £20 million to make sure that people in the area have the necessary skills to take part in the energy revolution that is set to take part on this island off the north coast of Wales.

Have We Seen the Last of Onshore Windfarms?

Onshore Wind Farm

During the last five years of the coalition government, onshore windfarms often came under attack from those who believed it a waste of money. Projects were still given the go ahead but there was often the feeling that the industry might well be living on borrowed time in this particular arena.

There’s no doubt that, with a majority Conservative government now in power, things could be about to turn decidedly turbulent for the onshore windfarm industry. Plans are afoot, if we believe the Tory manifesto, for the spread of wind farms to be curbed, a move that could put thousands of jobs at risk in the industry.

There are problems for the government though and it’s not a cut and dried policy move. Troublesome Scotland is in favour of onshore wind farms and are set to fight any move that would stop new projects. That could mean new wind farms being allowed in the north but, as the cost of subsidising construction is spread across the whole country, being paid for by people in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. What may seem like a simple move to block wind farms could well steep the Conservative Government in a good deal of confusion if not everyone agrees with them.

And many people do not.

There has always been some perceived negative feelings about windfarms, more so for those that are built on land rather than out at sea. The Not-In-My-Backyard brigade have come out in force in the past, so we are told. But recent surveys have suggested that the Great British public are not as anti-wind farm as many in the media, and in government, would have us believe.

Now that the Liberals are no longer in government, the Tory Energy Secretary is now Amber Rudd and she has stated that stopping the spread of onshore wind farms is top of her agenda. In a recent interview in The Times, she was pretty unequivocal, saying: “It will mean no more onshore wind farm subsidies and no more onshore wind farms without local community support. This is really important. I’ve already got my team working on it. That’s going to be one of the first things we’re going to do.”

It’s a big body blow for those who believe in wind power and how it can contribute to the UK’s energy needs. It’s not all doom and gloom and there may be some light on the horizon to perk up the converted. In the same edition that The Times published the Rudd interview they also produced a poll saying that 52% of people, mostly Tory voters, believed that there should be more onshore wind farms.

The manifesto pledge hasn’t made the Conservatives very popular with green groups as you may imagine and there is concern amongst Tory ranks that this could become an embarrassment if certain factions turn against them. Not only might they have misjudged the public’s mood over wind farms but they may also have a big fight on their hands with Scotland.

There are those, however, who think there is too much emphasis on wind energy and that stopping subsidies and pulling back from projects could well release valuable resources for developing other initiatives such as tidal, hydroelectric and solar. How the battle for onshore wind farms will eventually play out, only time will tell, but be prepared for a bumpy ride.

Rooftop Solar Costs Far Outweigh the Benefits, According to Grattan Report

solar panels

It has been growing in popularity over the years as we all come to embrace the potential of renewable technologies. It has even been given a boost in recent times by MPs in the UK saying that commercial rooftop solar is an important part of our energy provision now and for the foreseeable future.

While there are those who are still yet to be convinced that switching to solar can make that big a difference to their business, a new report from the Grattan Institute suggest that the cost of installing solar far outweighs any benefits. It’s caused something of stir in solar circles and got a good few renewables supporters hot under the collar.

With Tesla developing a better way to store electricity in their new batteries, the solar industry is currently pronouncing that our future definitely lies in harnessing the power of the sun. But if the Grattan report is correct then we may well all be heading down a blind alley where cheap and renewable solar energy is concerned.

The Grattan Institute is based in Australia and has recently stated that the cost of solar installation and maintenance was $9 billion over and above any benefits that come from things like the Feed in Tariff or other incentives. The problem is that the Grattan report is based, according to many experts, on a mishmash of figures and a bunch of wrong assumptions and calculations.

According to the Guardian, one of the main mistakes (amongst many) the report makes is to base its calculations on the lifespan of solar panels being around 15 years. Most panels are designed to last much longer than this and some installations may well last another 10 to 15 years if looked after properly. Take into account the amount of reduced cost electricity and the benefit of the Feed in Tariff, which they also operate in Australia, as well as the lowering of prices as more power production comes online, and the figures start to look a lot different.

The report hasn’t taken into account the fall in retail prices that the growing infrastructure of solar panels has helped to engender. According Melbourne University, the 4,000 MW of solar that currently influences the market could account for savings as much as $2 billion a year, which over 20 years could be over $40 billion, far more than the Grattan figures have suggested.

There are numerous other false assumption in the Grattan calculations and the Guardian reported this week that: “it adds up the costs but not all the benefits. In this case, to dismiss the lowering of wholesale electricity prices caused by the proliferation of solar PV, which, it argues, ‘does not constitute a net economic benefit to society’.”

The truth is that solar power is a developing technology and we are not completely sure of the benefits it will have in the future. One place to see this is in the evolution of battery technology that is able to effectively store the electricity produced, a problem that has held the industry back to some degree in the last few years. With the new Tesla battery and the inevitable rapid development of this type of storage technology we could see solar installations that provide power all day round and well into the night.

Most industry insiders believe that we have moved on a fair bit from this kind of corporate scaremongering provided by the Grattan Institute and that, particularly in the UK, we are more in favour of solar energy than ever before. We are likely to be heading for an energy infrastructure which is dependent to a large extent on the development of solar and the production of micro grids. The solar backers might well be able to breathe a hefty sigh of relief.