Tidal Power Could Generate 11% Of UK’s Electricity

New research led by the University of Plymouth, and published in Royal Society Proceedings A, shows that tidal stream power could deliver 11 per cent of the UK’s annual electricity and play an important role in the government’s drive for net-zero.

What Is Tidal Stream Power?

Tidal stream power uses turbines (e.g., a tidal energy converter/TEC) to harness the kinetic energy of moving tidal currents. The main advantages are that these currents are cyclic and relatively predictable, natural (no extra carbon emissions), and widely available as the world is mostly covered with tidal water.

Subsidy Could Help To Harness The Potential

The research suggests that harnessing 124 MW of prospective tidal stream capacity around the UK waters, which is currently eligible to bid for subsidy support, could drive down the levelised cost of energy (LCoE), and make tidal stream cost-competitive with technologies like combined cycle gas turbines, biomass, and anaerobic digestion. The research suggests that, installing 124 MW by 2031 could put tidal stream on a trajectory to deliver the estimated 11.5 GW needed to generate 34 TWh/year by 2050, the equivalent to 11 per cent of the UK’s (current) annual electricity demand.

Funding Removal Slowed Cost Reduction

The research highlighted how, although past government funding helped to install 18 MW of tidal stream capacity, which equates to 500 times less than the UK’s offshore wind capacity, cost reduction has slowed since access to the funding was removed. This means that for the possible 11.5 GW to be generated using tidal stream power, significantly more funding needs to be made available. The funding could provide the acceleration of innovation and cost reduction that could enable cheap, natural, carbon-free energy to be delivered at scale.

Already Started In Orkney

The regions of UK waters that could provide the highest tidal stream resource are the Pentland Firth and Orkney Waters, Scotland, and the Channel Islands. Although many of these areas would require spending and considerable work on infrastructure to link the schemes to the grid, a huge (680 metric tons) tidal turbine, dubbed “the world’s most powerful” has already started grid-connected power generation at the European Marine Energy Centre in Orkney. It is thought that the turbine can produce enough annual electricity to power 2,000 UK homes for the next 15 years.

Where Else?

The Bristol channel has high tidal range and is in close proximity to the existing grid infrastructure appears to be a promising place for tidal stream power generation.

Leading The World In This Technology

The co-author of the research report, Professor Beth Scott, of the University of Aberdeen, has highlighted how the research could help the UK government to understand the strategic use of predictable tidal stream energy and how “the UK is leading the world in both the technological and environmental research aspects of tidal stream energy developments and supporting that lead now will rapidly increase the UK’s goal of sustainable net-zero energy production.”

What Does This Mean For Your Organisation?

The high cost of electricity through current supply methods is an immediate concern to businesses, but as COP26 has shown, environmental issues are high on the world agenda, with businesses and organisations are keen to reduce their own carbon footprint. As suggested by the research, the technology involved in tidal stream power could help to produce cheap, plentiful, and green energy that could play a growing role in the government’s drive for net-zero. It is worth noting, however, that the UK’s demand for energy is likely to double by 2050 and tidal stream power is, along with wind, solar, and nuclear, likely to be part of a mix of clean energy sources that the UK will need. One of the big challenges for tidal stream power’s development, however, is the availability of funding to drive it forward, and it is hoped that the promising findings such as those in the Plymouth University research could help make a case for more investment in tidal stream power technology.


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Mike Knight