A new Independent Review of the potential role tidal lagoons could play in the United Kingdom’s future decarbonized energy mix has concluded that they would be a cost-effective and secure supply of decarbonized electricity while bringing substantial benefits for the UK supply chain.
The long-awaited Independent Review was published on Thursday by former Energy Minister Charles Hendry, following his appointment to write the report in May, 2016, amid negotiations for a proposed tidal lagoon power plant in Swansea Bay, in Wales. His job was to “assess the strategic case for tidal lagoons, and the role they could play in the UK’s energy mix.” More specifically, the “focus of the Review is not on specific proposals but on the general principals of tidal lagoons.”
In the Foreword of the Review (PDF), Hendry explained that the UK has the second largest tidal range in the world, second only to Canada. Hendry also noted that “it is hard to find an energy source where people are more instinctively supportive than tidal power.”
“In my time as a Minister, I constantly heard people speak negatively about most sources of electricity generation but rarely, if ever, about the principles of harnessing the power of the tides.”
Among Hendry’s primary conclusions are the belief that tidal lagoons “would help deliver security of supply … assist in delivering our decarbonisation commitments; and they would bring real and substantial opportunities for the supply chain.” Hendry also believes that “there is considerable value in a small (less than 500 MW) pathfinder project” — good news for Tidal Lagoon Power, the company behind the 320 megawatt (MW) Swansea Bay tidal lagoon power plant, which is already in the late-stages of development and moving quickly towards construction (which we have also touched on twice before).
“We know it absolutely works,” Hendry explained. “One of the great advantages is it is completely predictable for all time to come.
“We know exactly when the spring tides and neap tides are going to be every single day for the rest of time and so, in terms of meeting security of supply, lagoons can play an important role.”
Hendry’s Independent Review joins a separate study conducted by Aurora Energy Research (which has already categorized Swansea Bay as a pathfinder project) which recently concluded:
- Tidal energy could provide more than 10% of UK’s total power generation if 25 GW were to enter the system by 2030
- CO2 emissions would be reduced by 36% in 2035 relative to a scenario in which no new tidal lagoon projects are developed, allowing current carbon targets to be met
- Aurora has considered the impact of 10 tidal lagoon projects in the Irish Sea/Liverpool Bay and in the Severn Estuary
“There is a strong case to use Swansea Bay as a prototype to test tidal energy and see if it can work at a large scale,” said John Feddersen, Aurora’s CEO and co-founder. “Our research found that wider deployment of tidal lagoons would complement other sources, such as wind and solar, to help meet decarbonisation targets in a cost-effective way.”
“Tidal technology is more predictable than wind with lower intermittency costs and would also reduce wholesale electricity prices relative to a scenario in which no new tidal lagoon projects are developed.”
The Aurora study, using in-house modeling, simulated a scenario in which 25 gigawatts (GW) of tidal entered the UK energy mix by 2035.
Regarding a pathfinder project, Hendry explains further:
“The aim now is that we should move to secure the pathfinder project as swiftly as possible, so the learning opportunities it offers can be maximised. I have, however, also concluded that the smaller pathfinder project needs to be operational before we move to larger scale projects. This means that a clear long-term Government strategy in favour of tidal lagoons will be required if the full supply chain and cost reduction opportunities are to be realised.”
The report makes over 30 recommendations for delivering a tidal lagoon auditory bringing maximum benefit to the UK, including:
- An allocation by a competitive tender process for large scale tidal lagoons
- Informing the consenting process with a National Policy Statement for tidal lagoons similar to Nuclear new build, where specific sites are designated by the Government as being suitable for development
- The establishment of a new body (Tidal Power Authority) at arms-length from Government with the goal to maximize UK advantage from a tidal lagoon program
The Swansea Bay project has also received a lot of publicity this week, unsurprisingly in light of its status as the most-developed tidal lagoon project currently underway. Greenpeace UK’s chief scientist Doug Parr has also come out today to back tidal lagoon power, calling it the most reliable source of renewable energy the UK has access to, and promoting the Swansea Bay project as a great opportunity to test the reliability of the technology.
“Up to now, cost has been considered a barrier but the Hendry report suggests that tidal lagoons can potentially play a cost-effective role in the UK energy mix,” said Parr. “And the Government should get on with it because it could be the first of a wave of tidal lagoons across the UK, and even internationally. So we can lead the world in providing a new, renewable innovation to meet our clean energy needs.
“If Swansea is successful it could prove the investment case for further major projects that could potentially generate a significant chunk of the UK’s electricity needs, and help towards meeting our carbon targets, whilst creating thousands of new infrastructure jobs too.”
Unsurprisingly, Hendry’s report has garnered a lot of praise from other renewable energy industry groups, all looking to support tidal lagoon power as a new source of renewable and cost-efficient electricity for the UK.
“It’s great to have this ringing endorsement of innovative technology and modern industry,” RenewableUK’s Chief Executive Hugh McNeal said. “The world’s first tidal lagoon in Swansea Bay can provide power for our national energy needs and create local jobs for decades to come. Government should finalise negotiations so that work can start on this important infrastructure project as soon as possible.
“The UK’s future energy mix will be powered by a broad range of low carbon technologies which can be delivered by British companies. This means investing today in new sources for tomorrow – including marine energy technologies such as wave, tidal stream, and tidal lagoons.”
“A tidal lagoon in Swansea Bay could play a significant role in generating clean energy in Wales, and will be an important test of this exciting new power source,” said Haf Elgar, acting director of Friends of the Earth Cymru. “Tidal lagoons could have a big future, however it is crucial that any potential impacts on wildlife and the wider environment are properly considered and addressed before any new developments are given the go-ahead.
“New clean energy sources are important – but it is crucial that the government also ensures that adequate investment is targeted right now in low cost, renewable technologies, like solar and wind, that already generate a quarter of UK electricity.”