The renewable energy landscape is filled with wind and solar solutions. Wind farms are springing up everywhere, including near our Heritage Buildings, and domestic solar installations, as well as whole fields of panels, are becoming increasingly common.
But for the country with 8 of the world’s 20 potential sites for tidal installations, is this focus on short-term, short-life solutions the correct way to go? With targets to meet for 2020, set by the EU, perhaps it’s the length of time tidal projects take to complete that is off-putting.
Undoubtedly, there are other challenges. The only solution previously on the table, barrages, created a myriad of issues. A proposed project for the Severn, the river with the greatest tidal range in the world, has been thrown out 12 times before and looks just as likely to be rejected again after a House of Commons committee brought it forward once more on Monday 11th June. The reasons include – despite being able to produce 5% of the entire country’s electricity – that it is expensive (£25 billion) and, at best, would not be fully functioning until 2025.
The Port of Bristol fears that the barrage will obstruct ships and make the water shallower. The RSPB claim that it will disrupt migration routes to a quarter of Britain’s salmon habitats and could seriously affect 96 internationally protected sites for birds, largely by altering water levels. In addition, it would have to get round an EU directive, a lengthy process even if it succeeded.
No longer are barrages the only solution, however, to utilising a powerful and regular energy source. A business man by the name of Mark Shorrock has ploughed £2m of his own money into investigating tidal lagoons as a potential solution. This autumn he will apply for planning permission on the only development of its kind in the world – a project that involves channelling water from the estuary into six lagoons, enclosed by breakwaters that would stretch like giant harbour walls out from the coast. As the tide flows in and out, giant turbines like those found in barrages would generate the electricity.
Since they do not block the estuary; they do not harm ports, change migration routes or reputedly do nearly as much to affect bird habitat. As they aren’t one off projects, successive lagoons could be an improvement on the last – learning from mistakes and utilising the most up-to-date materials.
As the first of its kind in the most tidal rich country in the world, it could become a significant industry.
Mr Shorrock has this week (11th June) starting selling 12,500 shares in his company to locals around Swansea and South Wales and has held 240 meetings with interested parties and residents in what would be the affected areas. His proposed project would cost a £13.5bn, which is just over half of what a barrage across the Severn would cost despite a projected completion date two years earlier in 2023.
A solution that doesn’t create an eyesore, does produce enough electricity to meet a full quarter of Britain’s yearly consumption, doesn’t affect trade or wildlife significantly and could start off a major world industry.
So why are we covering the countryside with windfarms?