Ecotricity Founder: Tidal Energy Projects Can Be Developed For Half The Price Of Proposed Swansea Bay Project

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Tidal energy projects in the UK can be developed for nearly half the price of the proposed Swansea Bay project, according to the founder of the popular green electricity supplier Ecotricity.

To be more specific, the utility company founder stated that tidal energy projects in the region could be built for around £90/megawatt-hour (MWh) — rather than the £168/MWh price-tag of the proposed Swansea Bay tidal energy project.


The Ecotricity head also voiced support for the UK government’s recent decision to review the reality of tidal energy costs before committing to support the Swansea Bay project, as well as revealed the company’s plans to complete the first tidal energy project site in the region.

Here’s more from a press release:

Britain’s leading green energy company today welcomed the Government’s review of tidal lagoon energy — and announced that it is ready to take part in the review and to compete to build the first tidal lagoon energy site in Britain. The company, which will release details of its plans later this year, believes it can build tidal lagoon energy sites in Britain for almost half the price currently proposed for Swansea Bay.

…Ecotricity has recently written to the Department of Energy and Climate Change urging the Government to take its time and look more closely at the cost of tidal energy — and the company believes the Government is right to announce a review to ensure value for money from the fledgling industry.

Ecotricity founder, Dale Vince, stated: “The Government has been agonizing for a while about what level of support to give to the first tidal project in Britain. They’re clearly interested in the technology, which is a good thing, but they’ve been put off by the price tag of £168/MWh proposed by Swansea Bay — that’s understandable.

“We welcome the review, because we’re confident that tidal power projects can be built around Britain at much closer to £90/MWh — that’s the same price the Government are paying to support nuclear energy, but without the risks or clean-up costs.”

A good point. Despite the surface-level similarity in costs, tidal energy has a considerably less harmful effect on the wider environment — being responsible for far less in the way of waste production (and the production waste is far less toxic). The electricity generation technology is also far simpler to manage, requiring far less in the way is technical expertise, etc.

The UK government’s review of tidal energy is expected to begin relatively soon, towards the beginning of spring. (More information on the review can be found here.)

Dale continued: “We were concerned that the Government were being pushed into paying too high a price for tidal energy through the Swansea Bay scheme — that would be bad for renewable energy generally because it would reinforce the myth that green energy is expensive, and bad for tidal power specifically because it may never get off the ground.”

“We’re hoping this review will lead to the Government supporting tidal energy in Britain and doing it in a way that will enable competition, and through that value for money — enabling tidal mills to achieve their true potential in Britain.”

Image Credit: Ecotricity

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James Ayre

James Ayre's background is predominantly in geopolitics and history, but he has an obsessive interest in pretty much everything. After an early life spent in the Imperial Free City of Dortmund, James followed the river Ruhr to Cofbuokheim, where he attended the University of Astnide. And where he also briefly considered entering the coal mining business. He currently writes for a living, on a broad variety of subjects, ranging from science, to politics, to military history, to renewable energy.

James Ayre has 4830 posts and counting. See all posts by James Ayre

18 thoughts on “Ecotricity Founder: Tidal Energy Projects Can Be Developed For Half The Price Of Proposed Swansea Bay Project

  • Yes. This is a fully understood technology – the Rance tidal barrage in Brittany has been operating successfully since 1966, that’s 50 years. The tides themselves can be predicted hundreds of years in advance. Low risk should mean low returns on capital, say 3% real.

    • The Rance tidal barrier has been operating for 50 years, but its environmental impact has turned out to be completely different from what was initially expected. That part of the technology at least is still far from fully understood.

      The Rance ecosystem has seen much stronger silting than models predicted. This radically changed the ecosystem. Overall biodiversity hasn’t fallen much, but there has been a huge shift. Several local fish species disappeared, while other ones moved into the Rance.

      The studies for the Swansea Bay system will no doubt be better (thanks in part to the lessons learned at Rance), but we will have to accept that barriers will always have large and unpredictable impacts on local ecosystems. And that’s a shame, because the ecosystems that form in bays with strong tidal effects are often unique and diverse.

      Tidal turbines offer the same advantages you mention, but without the dramatic effects on the environment. That technology is also fairly mature by now, so I don’t understand why the British government is still betting so heavily on tidal barriers.

      • but Swansea isn’t a cross estuary barrier – that’s surely the difference -lagoon, not barrage?

        • True, but why would a lagoon or bay be immune to major ecosystem changes?

          • Far too pesemistic, not all change is bad if it was we would still be in the Stone Age.

          • False dilemma. The choice is not between tidal lagoons/barrages and remaining in the stone age.

            We have several sources of electricity that are cheaper and achieve lower environmental impacts than tidal barrages: wind power, solar PV, run of the river hydro, waste biomass, geothermal and potentially tidal turbines as well.

            As for the ‘lagoons act as storage’ argument: while true, they are a pretty expensive form of storage compared to conventional pumped hydro storage.

            Places with strong tidal ranges are few and far between and generally host unique and highly diverse ecosystems that are of significant ecological importance.

          • The reference to the Stone Age was obviously meant about the traditional and general ways of developing technologies.
            Wind power disfigures the landscape, is not dependable and requires reliable backup.
            Solar power is variable due to climate and weather though could be a very important contributor if all roof areas on large buildings ie hospitals,supermarkets,factories,government buildings etc were utilised.
            River hydro seems to be already used where efficiently possible.
            Waste biomass is already being developed by local councils.
            Pumped hydro storage is just as expensive to construct and would not have the additional advantages for recreational use.
            The British Isles has a large number of suitable sites all experiencing high tide at different times of the day.
            Nature is very accommodating and if things are done sympathetically and intelligently this clean,reliable,free source of energy should be utilised.

          • Wind power is dependable in the sense that turbines have availability factors of well over 95%, comparable to tidal power or hydropower plants.

            Its intermittency is hugely exaggerated: the output from individual wind farms fluctuates hugely, but over an area the size of western Europe, wind turbines have a fairly constant output that never drops below 40% of the long term average. Since Western Europe, including the UK, is becoming increasingly integrated, intermittency is becoming less and less of a problem.

            As for the backup: hydropower plants are perfect for that. Norway and Austria are fast becoming the batteries of Europe. That backup capacity is needed for tidal power too, by the way. Lagoons are not baseload generators.

            As for ‘disfiguring the landscape’: no more so than huge barrages across lagoons and harbors, or cooling towers from fossil fuel power stations.

            Same thing for solar.

            River hydro is not even close to being maxed out. Globally under half of the capacity for large hydropower plants is exploited, and for smaller (and less environmentally damaging) power plants the fraction is even smaller. The UK still has considerable small hydro potential, especially in Wales and parts of Scotland.

            Waste biomass is being developed, but on a smaller scale than desirable.

            “Nature is very accomodating”. Hmm. Look at the existing large tidal projects in South Korea and to a lesser extent France and the former USSR. They have proven hugely destructive to the local ecosystem, much more so than other forms of renewable energy.

            Not all nature is equally valuable. Areas with strong tidal effects are often biodiversity hotspots, that is to say they host a greater diversity of rare or threatened species than the surrounding area. They should be given the highest conservation priority, together with old growth forests for example.

          • “over an area the size of western Europe, wind turbines have a fairly constant output that never drops below 40% of the long term average”

            Do you have a link to that?

            All I’m familiar with is the Archer and Jacobson study that found that with an area much smaller than Europe 85% of the time wind output stayed above 35% of peak output.

      • Tidal flow turbines should be used in addition to lagoons with the disadvantage of their power generation not always coinciding with demand balanced by a large lagoons ability to act as a storage system for peak demand.

  • Limited number of good sites. But huge opportunity for long-term production.
    Looking forward to seeing more on this.

  • Dale Vincent needs to back up his assertions. What tidal power? Where? Can’t quote production prices without these details. At the end of the day ,the deciding factor is the total potential energy of water. Larger scale projects would be more cost effective, just as larger wind turbines and bigger wind farms are more efficient

    • Though I have been a very enthusiastic supporter of the Swansea Bay lagoon ever since the idea was first proposed by Tidal Electric many years ago I have always accepted that it is to a certain extent experimental and would provide an enormous amount of practical evidence and information as to the viability of much larger and more efficient projects.
      This way of developing any technology has been universal over thousands of years.

      • So what exactly will we learn from this project?

        Swansea Bay will not use any new technology: both the barrage itself and the turbines contained within it are of a design that has been perfected over 100 years ago. And tides can be computed centuries in advance.

        Cost reductions in tidal lagoons will have to come purely from economies of scale; the underlying technology is already mature. The question is whether or not those economies of scale can be achieved, given the limited number of sites with potential comparable to or greater than Swansea Bay (especially if you leave out protected nature reserves and other areas of special interest).

        Tidal power is a lot like CSP: a mature, reliable technology that can offer storage as well as power generation, but which is limited in its potential by geography.

  • What I don’t get is why Holland didn’t put turbines on it’s large dike works. If you driven over them or watched a video of them you know there is a lot of flow. You wouldn’t get it during big storms when they are closed, but that would have only small impact on capacity factor.

    • They are already doing that, for example with the Tocardo tidal turbines.

      Tocardo is a nice example of why the Netherlands didn’t do it in the first place: the potential for power generation is tiny (we are talking about the equivalent of a small wind farm per dyke here).

      The Netherlands has a small tidal range, which limits generation potential hugely.

      • Thanks, when you only watch for 30 mins, and don’t look up tide tables, you don’t know the tidal range.

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