Innovative Energy Consultancy Ltd
Innovative Energy Consultancy Ltd

Riding the crest of a wave: the future of tidal power

Tidal stream energy is at the ‘point of commercialisation’ according to a new report by Offshore Marine Catapult, a government-backed research centre.

While tidal power is always likely to supply a smaller proportion of Britain’s renewable energy, the report says it could play a crucial part in decarbonising the nation’s energy system. “Offshore wind and solar are intermittent. But we know for certain when the tides come in and go out,” Simon Cheeseman, sector lead for wave and tidal energy at Catapult. “It provides the energy buffer that you need in a system that will increasingly depend on irregular power.”

Tidal stream energy could plummet below £80 per MWh by 2035 if the current opportunity is realised, a new industry-leading report has predicted.

The report found that drivers for tidal stream energy (TSE) cost reduction include scaling up the size and power of tidal devices, and the development of larger TSE farms. Moving to piled foundations and anchors for fixed bottom and floating devices respectively would also deliver cost savings. Longer term, the report estimates that an LCOE of £60/MWh could be reached by 2042 and £50/MWh by 2047.

Economic benefits, in recent studies from the University of Edinburgh and the University of Manchester, were also highlighted. TSE projects generate over 80% of materials from the local supply chain, create up to 45 jobs per MW deployed – exceeding the wind and solar industries, and could contribute up to £17 billion to the UK economy by 2050. It also highlighted that the UK could capture 25% of the international market value of TSE through export.

The report suggests that 877MW of TSE could be deployed in the UK by 2035, in agreement with the Marine Energy Council’s ask for the UK Government to commit to 1GW of marine energy deployment by 2035.

The cost of generating power from tidal streams has fallen by 40% in the past four years and prices could fall to as little as £78 per one-megawatt hour which is favourable against £92.50 from nuclear.

Unlike tidal barrages and tidal lagoons, which involve mounting turbines in sea walls, tidal stream turbines are lowered directly into strong tides out at sea. The challenges of installing and testing turbines in sometimes turbulent waters have made it far more costly than building wind and solar farms. But developers have been steadily refining their designs and driving down costs, with turbines becoming more powerful and easier to deploy at sea.

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