As an island, Great Britain is ideally placed to lead the world in the development of tidal energy technologies.
Only last month, the UK’s first commercial tidal stream turbine project secured funding for deployment off the coast of Scotland in 2020.
If all goes according to plan, the 2MW device – developed by Orkney-based renewables company Orbital Marine Power – will be delivered “at costs similar to offshore wind”, according to Chief Executive Andrew Scott.
An earlier research and development model generated more than 3GWh of power during its first year of testing – that’s more energy than has been generated by the entire Scottish wave and tidal energy sector over the previous 12 years.
Setting world records
Elsewhere in Scotland, the world’s largest tidal stream project under construction – the Meygen – set a world record last August, when phase one of the project generated 700 MWh of power from just two turbines in one month.
Located in the Pentland Firth, which has some of the world’s most powerful tides, the project will have 61 turbines with 86MW of capacity once complete.
Unlike wind or solar, tidal energy has the advantage of being entirely predicable.
Delivering 10% of global demand
As a result, it’s estimated that ocean-generated power could meet 10% of global energy demand.
Certainly, the European Union predicts 100GW of ocean energy will be installed in Europe by 2050, which is the equivalent of 100 large conventional power stations.
Many believe the UK could be a major player in Europe’s potential annual £48 billion market.
Potential for £1.4bn benefits
Last year, a report from the research organisation Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult claimed that the tidal stream and wave energy industry could generate a net cumulative benefit to the UK of £1.4 billion, supporting nearly 4,000 jobs by 2030.
But while Britain is currently seen as the world leader in tidal and wave technologies, some developers are concerned this may not continue without more support from the UK government.
Lack of government funding
Until March 2017, commercial-scale tidal and wave power projects could get government subsidies.
But now only Contracts for Difference funding is available to successful bidders. In the marine sector, the more mature – and as a result less costly – offshore wind projects are winning contracts over wave and tidal bids.
But like offshore wind, the cost of wave and tidal is likely to fall as the technologies mature and more capacity is installed.
Tidal energy for £90/MWh
For example, research by Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult suggests we’ll see tidal stream costs fall from around £300/MWh for some projects to less than £90/MWh, providing capacity can reach 1GW.
Last June, the government also rejected support for the Swansea tidal lagoon project on the basis of it being too costly compared to offshore wind or nuclear energy.
Some companies are already looking for funding alternatives – and successfully so. Orbital Marine Power managed to raise £7 million from peer-to-peer investment to fund its new 2MW tidal turbine.
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