tidal lagoon concept swansea

UK finally embraces tidal stream projects with £20m annual subsidy

The government has announced a £20m annual investment in tidal stream electricity projects in an effort to expand the UK’s use of the technology.

Tidal energy is created using the movement of tides and oceans, where the intensity of the water from the rise and fall of tides is a form of kinetic energy that is converted into electricity.

It can be harnessed in three different ways - tidal streams, barrages and lagoons - but has been relatively uneconomical compared to other forms of renewable electricity such as wind and solar.

However, unlike those forms of generation, which produce variable electricity output depending on the climactic conditions, tidal energy offers a predictable and constant flow that makes it easier for engineers to design efficient systems.

The government said that it hopes the latest investment will boost the popularity of the technology. As part of the fourth allocation round of the 'Contracts for Difference Scheme' due to open next month, it will ensure that £20m per year will be ringfenced for tidal stream projects, giving the marine energy sector a chance to develop their technology and lower their costs in a similar way to the UK’s offshore wind industry. This will bring the total funding for this allocation round to £285m per year.

The scheme has already been shown to keep costs down for offshore wind plants: between the first allocation round in 2015 and the most recent round in 2019, the price per unit (MWh) of offshore wind fell by around 65 per cent.

A tidal lagoon project in Swansea Bay (pictured above) was granted development consent in 2015, with the Welsh Government offering to invest £200m into the project in June 2018.

However, later the same month, the UK government withdrew its support on the grounds of value for money. Had it been built, the Swansea Bay project would have become the world's first tidal lagoon power plant, although other types of tidal power plants do exist.

“As an island nation, we are perfectly placed to capitalise on clean marine energy, building on our booming offshore wind sector which is now a British industrial success story,” said Kwasi Kwarteng, business and energy secretary. “We hope to see marine energy follow in the successful footprints of other renewable technologies, where we’ve seen costs fall dramatically in recent years thanks to UK government support.

“The investment today provides a major push for tidal power to become a key part of the next generation of renewable electricity projects needed to strengthen energy security as we work to reduce our dependency on volatile fossil fuels.”

Alister Jack, Scottish secretary, said: “Harnessing the powers of our seas is a vital step in our transition to the use of greener, cleaner energy and underlines the UK government’s commitment to create and protect highly-skilled jobs while on our journey to net zero by 2050.

“With strong wind and solar power industries in the UK, it is the natural next step to explore our tidal energy capabilities. It’s an exciting development in supporting of our domestically produced renewable energy sources.”  

Sue Barr, chair of the UK Marine Energy Council, said: “This dedicated ringfence will secure our domestic market, support decarbonisation and will enable tidal stream energy to develop; delivering export opportunities, green jobs and economic growth in the process.”

In 2018, a report suggested that tidal stream technology could generate £1.4bn for the UK while supporting the creation of 4,000 jobs by 2030.

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