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Last week's poll: new surge for tidal energy?

Europe’s largest tidal array has been consented in the Pentand Firth off Orkney, a project that is expected to eventually generate up to 86MW of power. What will it take for tidal energy to make an appreciable contribution to the UK’s energy needs?

The overwhelming majority of respondents to last week’s poll believe much more government investment in tidal technologies is required, with 76 per cent agreeing with this viewpoint.

Only three per cent wrote off tidal entirely, believing it too small to make an appreciable contribution to the UK’s energy mix, whilst nine per cent took the view that the answer lies in large-scale projects to build tidal barrages at several estuary sites.

A wider view was taken by seven per cent who believe a concerted effort should be made to develop renewables rather than shale gas, and five per cent believe tidal will make a credible contribution to the UK’s energy needs through the development of grid-connected energy storage at sites with a high tidal flow, such as Pentland and the Irish Sea.

What will it take for tidal energy to make an appreciable contribution to the UK's energy needs?

As The Engineer reported on September 16, MeyGen will install the tidal array in stages, beginning with a 9MW demonstration project of up to six turbines. Construction starts in early 2014 with turbines set for commissioning in 2015.

This followed an announcement by DECC on February 27, 2013 that Meygen was one of two companies to take a share of £20m under the government’s Marine Energy Array Demonstrator scheme to support the development and testing of pre-commercial marine devices.

Speaking at the time, Greg Barker, energy and climate change minister said, ‘The UK, with its amazing natural resource and outstanding technical know-how is already leading the way on marine power for the rest of the world to follow, and I want to ensure we stay top of this table.’

What do you think? Let us know below.

Readers' comments (31)

  • I think with a bit of planning there are enough small inlets around the coast where smaller turbines could be put instead of looking at massive projects, which will give a faster deployment of resources and return on capital layout, by the way is anybody looking at inland waterways as the rivers(weirs) are still flowing 24 hrs a day and surely technology has leapt forward since our flour mills were invented.

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  • Tidal energy is low head hydropower with a velocity head of 0.25m. Conventional hydropower needs a head of at least 1.2 m to be economic. And this is for one way flow in fresh water!

    I am involved in a 5800 MW tidal energy barrage scheme with 8 m tides. It is uneconomic as is the even more difficult tidal energy schemes.

    They can never compete with shale gas and nuclear power.

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  • I agree totally with Terry Croft. There is a huge number of places where small, modular turbines could be installed, probably at similar cost to solar panels, and with much greater reliability. Being modular would bring economies of scale to manufacturing and help the economy, provided they are not made in China! Small is beautiful.

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  • I am interested by Bryan Leyland's comments, because the River Rance Tidal Power Station in France generates 240 MW and only generates on the outflow of water, that is a capacity factor of 40%. Annual Generation 600 GWh. The project has PAID for itself; built in 1966 the dam should last a minimum of a further 100years, unlike Shale Gas or nuclear that take centuries to decommission (See Calder Hall 1956). It is generating the cheapest electricity in France on an 8 metre head as per Brian Leyland's project. I was wondering if over 120 years it becomes far more economic to use tidal compared to nuclear power-stations that have a life GENERATING life of 30 years. Is the barrage pay back to long? Where presumably on shore power-stations give equivalent powerpower, but cheaper initial capital for a short operating life. The Severn Barrage is equivalent to 4 Nuclear Power Stations in generation capacity - unless the outer barrage is used then equal to 7 nuclear units or 15 GW. With decent maintenance the barrage could last 200 years and become a tourist attraction like the River Rance.

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  • I would love to see our subsidies for wind removed and invested in wave, tidal and nuclear.

    These really do seem to be significantly better options for Britain with its large coast line, fast tides and rough seas.

    Moreover the investment would go in to British universities, British companies and provide jobs for our engineers and manufacturers.

    Wind feels like a complete rip off designed to make land owners and German manufacturers richer at our expense rather than tackling the issue at hand.

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  • I have been working on a "micro" zero-head device (PowerTube) for four years and have (via scale model tests, calcs, CFD and tests of parts at full scale) got to the point of going as far as I can without building a full scale pre-production model. The unit is the size of a 20 ft ISO container and designed factory built and then moored like a pontoon. The intention is that 1000s can be installed around areas with water flowing at a few knots, both UK and world-wide.

    This is an idea that people have had over the years, and others around the world are working on similar devices in parallel with me. I have a patent granted and two more to be applied for when funds allow. The improvements I have discovered will make this a practical proposition. As with most successful products there appears to be a few key do's and don'ts.

    I have carried out market research and have several customers interested. In addition work with the EA and other planning authorities have informed my marketing brief from which a thorough Product Design Spec has been developed.

    I have sold (my leisure boat to kick things off) and then some equity to small scale investors which gives me half the funds I need and I have applied for the lottery that is the TSB Smart Grant for the balance. Turned down the first time I have just re-applied. I have not found any other funds at all. (MAS has some small grants which would be helpful, but funds in the order of £50k to £100k just don't seem to be around. I believe they were until the change of government (either party may have stopped the programme at the time).

    As a Professional Engineer working full time elsewhere managing the development of new products from concept to manufacture I know how to do this. The lack of help for small businesses and start ups makes life difficult. I don't expect it on a plate, and investors want to see that it works by visiting the prototype in the river. But there must be many good ideas where people can demonstrate good professional research and just can't get the funding to move it forward.

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  • Why should the government be expected to hand out cash to every potty idea that comes along? If your idea has any legs at all you will be able to get a company interested and leverage it from there. That's what we did with TidalStream, we got an investment from a German company and now we are looking with a Scottish utility at a very large deepwater project. For the hydro people, incidentally, you do not need a significant head for tidal stream... we can achieve 40% capacity factor on the same momentum exchange basis as wind energy.

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  • One has only to visually study the rivers Thames, Tyne, and Severn to see the enormous amount of tidal energy available. In addition, way upstream on many rivers throughout the UK where one has energy available from river flow. We should have national scheme to develop this and it is pollution free

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  • I think that a point has been missed with renewables, which is that we can't control availability. They can be switched off, to prevent overloading the grid, but can't be switched on when there is no wind or tide.

    In my opinion there should be more invested in energy storage, so that the available wind and tide energy isn't lost because it happens to occur at the wrong time of day. There are storage ideas out there, and some have been put into place, such as electrolysing water to gain hydrogen, compressing air or cryogenic storage, but nothing that seems to be of large enough scale to use for our generation issues.

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  • In response to Colin Harris - Tidal flow turbines can generate electicity 85% of the time and cant generate at turn of tide as no flow and cant generate either side as insufficient flow just before and just after turn of tide to turn under load driving the generator.

    Not only can we plant turbines in rivers we can plant in tidal races around the coast like the one along the south coast west of the Isle of Wight that Frobisher and Drake used in 1588 to keep out run the Armada and keep it out of the solent

    Tidal Flow Water turbines are reliable as the tides are and equally predictable and an area that UK plc must invest in to provide the majority of renewable energy supporting Nuclear baseload generation. As energy storage facilities increase we can gradually increase the proportion of renewable energy as UK plc energy demands rise like they will do in future.

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