As the UK aims to increase its renewable energy sources, tidal energy presents a significant opportunity.
Unlike other renewable power sources, such as solar or wind, tidal energy is predictable and continuous. A study by the University of Plymouth found that tidal energy has the potential to provide up to 11% of the UK’s current electricity needs, making it a valuable addition to the country’s energy mix and security.
With abundant resources and an ideal geographical location, the UK has the potential to become a leader in this sector. Here we’ll look at the development of three important tidal energy centres in Orkney, two locations in Wales and the Isle of Wight, and outline several of the challenges faced by the developing sector.
Orkney: unlocking tidal energy potential
The Orkney Islands, off Scotland’s northeastern coast, host the European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC) and have become a hub for marine renewable research, particularly tidal energy. The strong, predictable tides around the islands offer a unique opportunity for wave and tidal energy technology development.
Leading tidal energy companies, including Orbital Marine Power Ltd, Magallanes Renovables SL and QED Naval have established operations in Orkney, working on cutting-edge technology and positioning themselves at the forefront of marine renewable energy research and development.
Established in 2003, EMEC has provided world-class testing environments for tidal energy technologies, fostering innovation and collaboration. As global demand for clean energy grows, the wave and tidal energy sector can create jobs, attract investment, and drive coastal community economic growth.
With the UK government’s net-zero carbon emissions goal by 2050, developing and integrating marine renewable energy sources like Orkney tidal energy is essential. Orkney’s contributions to tidal energy and the renewable energy landscape make them a key player in advancing the UK’s wave and tidal energy sector.
Isle of Wight: a growing tidal energy hub
The Isle of Wight, just off England’s south coast, is another location with great potential for tidal energy development. Key players in this development include the groundbreaking Perpetuus Tidal Energy Centre — which will provide enough energy to power a third of homes on the island — as well as HydroWing Ltd, Orbital Marine and EMEC. The Isle of Wight aims to achieve net-zero emissions by 2040, and tidal energy forms an essential part of their strategy.
Marine Energy Wales: completing the UK trident
Marine Energy Wales provides two locations for the development and testing of marine renewnable solutions – tidal stream near Anglesey via Morlais Energy zone, and wave energy based out of Pembroke Docks. In particular there are some early adopters in Pembrokeshire focusing on wave energy – more on wave energy in a future post.
Financial constraints and government support
Despite the promising potential of tidal energy in the UK, the sector faces several challenges that need to be addressed for it to reach its full potential. A major challenge is the high upfront cost of constructing large scale tidal power facilities. In 2008, the UK government shortlisted five proposed projects for the Severn Estuary, but none of them received the green light for development as the cheapest was estimated to cost £2.3 billion. In 2018, the government took the controversial decision to reject the £1.3 billion Swansea Bay Lagoon project. But the future looks more promising as design and development continues – turbines are becoming more powerful and easier to deploy, with smaller array systems are likely the future over larger infrastructure projects.
A forward-thinking approach to tidal energy policy
For the UK to harness its full tidal energy potential, it needs a forward-thinking approach to policy and investment. This includes providing the necessary financial support for both tidal range power —which harnesses energy from the difference in water levels during high and low tides — and tidal stream projects, which focus on capturing energy from the movement of tidal currents. Recently, more money has been pumped into tidal stream technology because of its lower environmental footprint, cost-effectiveness, and greater versatility. But experts believe both should contribute to our energy mix.
The future of UK tidal energy
The UK has a unique opportunity to become a world leader in tidal energy, with Orkney and the Isle of Wight as prime case studies. However, to achieve this, the sector must overcome significant challenges related to location viability, high upfront costs, and the need for government support. With a strategic approach, the UK’s tidal energy sector could help provide a stable, predictable, and clean power source to complement the country’s renewable energy mix.