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Tidal energy gets independent backing

With potential schemes in Lancashire and Cumbria waiting in the wings, a government-commissioned review of tidal power has backed the technology as an “important and exciting new industry”.

With potential schemes in Lancashire and Cumbria waiting in the wings, a government-commissioned review of tidal power has backed the technology as an “important and exciting new industry”.

Produced by former UK energy minister, Charles Hendry, the report offers the government recommendations on the role that tidal lagoons could play in powering the country.

By capturing incoming and outgoing tides behind specially-constructed sea walls, tidal ‘lagoons’ store seawater that can be used to power turbines, creating reliable, long-term, clean electricity.

The UK has some of the highest tidal ranges in the world, making it an ideal location to establish a programme of tidal lagoons and develop a home-grown industry. 

Trailblazer

The most well-known proposed development in the pipeline is the Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon, which would cost around £1.3 billion and provide electricity 320MW of electricity capacity for over a century. 

The review suggests that the Swansea Bay project has the potential to be cost-competitive with other clean technologies such as nuclear, bringing “very real” economic benefits.

The review recommends the government fund a ‘pathfinder’ project like Swansea Bay to test the technology before bigger projects are supported.

‘Exciting industry’

Charles Hendry said: “I believe that the evidence is clear that tidal lagoons can play a cost-effective role in the UK’s energy mix.

“I conclude that tidal lagoons would help deliver security of [energy] supply; they would assist in delivering our decarbonisation commitments; and they would bring real and substantial opportunities for the UK supply chain.”

“Tidal lagoons can be an important and exciting new industry for the UK. We are blessed with some of the best resources in the world, which puts us in a unique position to be world leaders.”

Regional pipeline

Schemes in the North West are also in the pipeline.

A £300 million, 120MW tidal plant on the River Wyre estuary near Fleetwood in Lancashire has been dubbed “the most affordable project of its kind” by its developer, Natural Energy Wyre. 

Meanwhile, Tidal Lagoon Power, the same company behind the Swansea Bay project, has targeted the Solway Firth in Cumbria as a much larger follow-on project. 

‘Whole new industry’

Juliet Davenport, chief executive of electricity supplier Good Energy, an investor in the Swansea Bay project, said: “By kicking off a British tidal lagoon industry we are presenting the world with another awesome low carbon [energy] option, and it is British know-how that will be called upon should other countries look to take up that option.

“Tidal lagoons are a brilliant way for Britain to diversify its energy mix and keep the lights on. They will also create a whole new industry and thousands of jobs as well.”

Opposition

However, tidal lagoons are not without opposition. The technology will require significant subsidy to get off the ground, meaning less potential subsidy for other low carbon energy technologies such as wind and solar. 

There are also opposition from conservation groups that cite the negative environmental impacts of building man-made lagoons in wildlife-rich estuaries. 

Whether or not the government decides to back tidal power is likely to be announced in its forthcoming Emissions Reduction Plan.