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Time and Tide Wait for No Man...

This week it has been announced that sections of Scotland’s sea bed are to be leased out to developers wanting to push forward with tidal power projects. This technology has the potential to be massively beneficial in the attempt to increase the percentage of renewable energy by 2020. The awesome power of the tides coupled with the UK’s 11,000 miles of coastline makes tidal power the perfect choice for our island’s energy needs, so this has to be a focus area for government and industry alike.

Some estimates say there is potential for up to 15GW of power to be harvested using this method, which is enough to run 15 million average family homes. Whereas with many statistics relating to wind or solar power potential where the figures rely on 100% wind or 365 days of blazing sunshine, tidal power can be far better predicted as the tides are as reliable as the Japanese rail network.

So tidal power has an awful lot going for it. The source of the energy is reliable, regular and powerful and the fact that much of the equipment is submerged beneath the ocean means it doesn’t spoil the stunning views of our coastline. But as the machinery needs to stand up to massively hostile conditions and the installation process is difficult and dangerous, the cost of commissioning tidal power systems is very high.

Boffins at Oxford University claim to have come up with a new system that could reduce costs and increase efficiency of tidal power systems by altering the format of the blades. Essentially this means turning the blades from a ‘windmill’ to a ‘lawnmower’ which allows it to harvest more energy from the tidal surges, both incoming and outgoing.

When in full production, this Transverse Horizontal Axis Water Turbine (Thawt) is expected to be able to produce 12MW of power (enough to power 12,000 homes) while also being far cheaper and easier to maintain than the traditional ‘windmill’ design. When I say cheap, they will still cost £1.3m per MW of power, but when compared to £3m for current tidal power systems and over £2m for wind you can see that these guys didn’t fluke their way into Oxford!

But as with wind power, many projects are facing major hurdles from environmental bodies who are putting a huge amount of pressure on developers to assess the environmental impact of tidal turbines. Some in the industry believe this pressure and the expectations of the environmental groups to be excessive and damaging to the progress of this technology.

At some stage we need to let developers just get on with it. Forcing them to spend millions on monitoring environmental impact will be counterproductive in the long run when the money can be spent improving the technology and actually getting them up and running. Currently there is no limit to the amount of monitoring that can be imposed on a project which seems utterly ridiculous. These engineers are attempting to improve all our futures and the future of the planet and need to be given freedom to carry out their work, so I hope a happy medium can be reached in this area.

The leasing of the Scottish sea bed appears to be a good indication that things are moving along in the right direction, but the implementation of tidal power technology is still lagging far behind other renewable sources. With all that potential locked up along our shore line and time ticking away, we need to release the bottlenecks of finance and legislation in order to reap the benefits long into the future.

Enjoy the newsletter,

Richard Scott

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