Tidal power is always pretty impressive to understand, given the sheer scale on which the power is generated. Imagine a wind turbine turned upside down and dunked in some of the roughest seas and you begin to imagine just how tricky but beneficial tidal power can be.
And according to new research UK officials are severely underestimating the wealth of electricity that could be generated from tidal sources.
The analysis, published in the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A, reports that estuary barges and tidal streams could provide more than 20% of the UK’s demand for electricity.
“From tidal barrages you can reasonably expect you can get 15% of UK electricity needs, that’s a very solid number,” co-author Dr Nicholas Yates from the National Oceanography Centre told BBC News. “On top of that there is a 5% tidal stream figure, and with future technological development that is likely to be an underestimate in my view.”
One such project that has been floated (get it? “floated”?) is the idea of building an estuary barge across the Severn. So far the idea has been rejected by the coalition government due to the impact it would have on the environment, however ministers have recently indicated they are wiling to review the idea.
However Dr Yates, one of the researchers behind the new report, has good reason to dislike starting out with building on the Severn.
“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,” he said. “Start small, it’s what the Danes did with wind – start small, learn quick and build up.”
Tidal power has the opportunity now to become a real player in the world of renewable energy. Already a company — MeyGen, a company who are “dedicated to the production of predictable, clean and renewable electricity from tidal flows” — is planning on developing a tidal stream technology in the Pentland Firth that, initially, will provide enough power to service 38,000 homes.
“This is a crucial milestone for us, it will be the first array of tidal stream turbines,” observed report co-author Professor AbuBakr Bahaj from the University of Southampton. “It will be a viable proposition for us in energetic areas of the sea – it will be give us another element in the energy mix that’s more reliable than wind.”
All in all, with slowdowns in the growth of solar and, to a lesser extent, wind power, and growing understanding in tidal power generation, 2013 could be the year that we see the industry leapfrog its way to the forefront of our minds.