Is it Time for a Tidal Power Revolution in the UK?

As an island with a large amount of coastline, the UK has great potential for taking advantage of developments in tidal technology. With the stalled construction of the Swansea Tidal Lagoon and Government focus ever more drifting towards nuclear and fracking, we could be missing a trick by not investing more in this burgeoning technology.

According to Renewable Energy News:

“The potential energy that could be harvested from tidal movements on a global scale is enormous. It is estimated that around 1 terawatt of exploitable power is stored in the world’s oceans. This would be enough to power 10 billion 100-watt lightbulbs at once.”

Prior to the Government’s move to pull away from renewables following their May 2015 election success, everything was looking pretty rosy in the tidal energy world. The Swansea Lagoon was on track and there was even talk of other  projects including one at Colwyn Bay in North Wales.

Uncertainty over tariffs and the a luke warm commitment to renewables has led to the first major tidal project essentially being kicked into the long grass. Swedish firm Minesto have applied for a licence to install tidal kites off Anglesey that could produce up to 10 MW of power and this remains a good sign that there is a future for tidal power. Many scientists have said that this form of energy has all the hallmarks of an efficient and reliable technology that could benefit the UK in the future.

  • A mix of barrages in estuaries and using tidal streams could provide as much as 20% of the nation’s electricity supply.
  • Because tidal is more predictable than wind, it presents a more reliable opportunity for energy production.

All this looks good on paper. The problem is that the resources and finances funnelled into finding a solution for harnessing the energy of waves has been much lower compared to wind and solar. Plans for a barrage scheme in the River Severn was initially rejected when the coalition government was in charge because of the cost. While the Government are open to review it, there is no sign of them doing so soon.

Large projects such as the ones Severn and Swansea might get the renewable pulse racing but many scientists believe that we should be starting on a smaller scale and then building up rather than going for big projects. That will give the time for the technology to bed in and for governments to come more favourable in their approach. According Dr Nicholas Yates at Liverpool University:

“I think it’s unfortunate that attention for tidal range has tended to focus on the Severn, it’s the wrong place to start, it’s too big. Start small, it’s what the Danes did with wind – start small, learn quick and build up.”

That might be good advice to follow if we are going to create a tidal power revolution in the UK. There are, of course, major challenges for developing the technology, not least building in difficult areas. Small projects like the Minesto tidal kites could be the start the UK is looking for and, if successful, could see similar projects around the UK coast.

There’s no doubt that the concept of tidal power is an attractive one. Perhaps it’s time we moved away from investment in areas like nuclear and fracking and concentrated our efforts on this new technology that could power us well into the next century.