Tidal should be seen as a huge opportunity for the UK’s construction and engineering sectors and a potential export opportunity for the UK, says Stuart Murphy.
Back in March, the Welsh government, which was recently returned with an even stronger green agenda, launched a consultation to bring interested parties together to revive the possibility of a lagoon-type tidal.
In the aftermath of the shelved Swansea Lagoon, this is sure to put a renewed spring in the step of many tidal energy innovators, including ourselves at TPGen24.
It’s an indicator of an exciting sea change afoot and one which is gathering momentum. I think people are beginning to understand that our current levels of renewables just aren’t enough to meet our growing requirements for green energy 24/7, from the decarbonising of the grid and EV revolution, to hydrogen capture and smart cities.
Tidal offers a potential solution, particularly when considered in conjunction with other clean energy resources. Now is the time to make the case for it and the many associated benefits such plants can bring.
There’s no doubt that the recent Swansea Lagoon pilot project dented political and business confidence in tidal. However, I think the valuable lessons have been learnt and we are fast moving towards a scenario of developing systems which make long-term financial sense.
Aside from the cost per MWh, Swansea had a central flaw in that it was no better than other, cheaper alternatives. Much of this was down to intermittency, with the ability to only produce electricity around 14 hours a day, most of the time.
My view is, if we move beyond this, there is a very strong case for tidal energy and that’s precisely what my team and I have been doing over the last five years. Particularly, we have harnessed emerging smart technology to demonstrate how a tidal lagoon plant can be controlled to respond to the rise and fall of the tide, capturing water within and releasing it according to demand.
Currently in testing phase, our computational fluid dynamics modelling has shown, when correctly programmed, it is possible to achieve substantial amounts of power, available 24/7, 365 days a year using this system. It’s something of a game-changer, which we hope will encourage more focus on this woefully untapped resource. Fundamentally TPGen24 could perpetually provide baseload, which is the holy grail of energy.
We are now working with academic and professional engineering partners to conclusively show how such a system can be built and how it can be evaluated to be as competitive on end-user cost as other renewable alternatives.
Importantly, if anything else, we are moving the conversation beyond Swansea, and showing how the vision of tidal plants can be made an infrastructural reality!
Tidal should also be seen as a huge opportunity for the UK’s construction and engineering sectors. Many of these generation systems, particularly lagoon-based ones, are major infrastructural projects and bring with them the prospect of more jobs, economic investment in struggling coastal communities and the chance to establish a global expertise for this type of system. This latter benefit can, in turn, be a potential export opportunity for UK plc.
It all sounds great, however, we’re still a long way off realising a notable transformation in attitudes towards tidal energy. With so much to gain, I believe now is the time for the construction sector to start banging the drum for these types of systems, especially those which are not only able to deliver the direct benefits of clean, perpetual energy but also contribute to the wider socio-economic fabric.
We need to inspire both politicians and businesses to invest and bring them to the table in much the same way as they have embraced tidal and solar. In a country surrounded by water, it baffles me that we haven’t gotten there sooner, given it will be essential to meet our increasing reliance on green electricity to merely operate day to day.
Ultimately, it will play an important part in delivering the zero-carbon future we all aspire to - a British pioneered power solution to benefit the UK and the rest of the world.
Stuart Murphy is the founder of tidal energy research project TPGen24.