Helping net-zero emissions: tidal power could meet 11% of UK electricity needs
Tidal power is expected to play an important role in the country’s government’s push for net-zero emissions, according to a new study published today in Proceedings of the Royal Society A. Scientists from across the UK say harnessing the power of ocean tidal currents could help meet the country’s future energy needs (about 11%) in a predictable and reliable way. At the same time, governments need to accelerate investment in innovation and reduce costs so that future projects can provide cheap electricity.
The study authors point out that tidal power has yet to see its real opportunity, given the UK government’s current renewable energy funding scheme and distribution.
Specifically, so far, government funding has only helped to install 18 MW of tidal flow generators, which is only about 1/500 of the current offshore wind capacity.
Due to the inability to obtain sufficient funds, the technical iteration of tidal current power generation facilities, which were originally designed for low-cost deployment, has also become quite slow.
To expand support for such new energy sources, it must be cost-competitive with gas turbines, biomass, and nuclear power.
Study Illustration – 1: Tidal/Offshore Wind Capacity in the UK and Rest of the World
The new study also explores the potential environmental impact of such future development, finding no evidence at this stage that the next stage of tidal flow deployment would have significant adverse consequences.
In other words, the environmental impact at the physical level is expected to be an order of magnitude smaller than the impact of climate change.
Research Illustration – 2: Commentary Topic Summary/Example of Interconnections
The study, led by the University of Plymouth, was published in the journal A of the Royal Society just a day before world leaders’ COP26 climate conference in Douglas, Scotland.
Dr Danny Coles from the University, who led the study, said: “There is substantial evidence that the UK/Channel Islands tidal energy resources could meet around 11% of our current annual electricity demand”.
Study Illustration – 3: Potentially Available Tidal Energy Installation Sites
Embarrassingly, it would take around 11.5 GW of installed capacity to achieve this, compared with just 18 MW in the UK currently.
Consider that it took the country’s offshore wind industry about 20 years to reach 11.5 GW of installed capacity. The current time window has become quite tight for tidal energy to play a significant role in the push for net-zero emissions.
Study Illustration – 4: Predicted Reference Values for the 2011 Carbon Trust Study
The research team pointed out that Scotland’s Pentland Firth (Pentland Firth), Orkney Waters (Orkney Water), and the Channel Islands (Channel Islands) region is rich in tidal energy resources.
However, both regions require the support of large grid infrastructure to deliver green and clean energy to high-demand central cities.
Study Illustration – 5: Cumulative Capacity/LCoE Relationship
In contrast, other locations on the south coast of England and the Bristol Channel are easier to develop for tidal energy because they are closer to existing grid infrastructure and demand centres.
It is worth mentioning that with the gradual increase in the penetration of renewable energy, the UK government has identified the integration of variable generation grids as a key challenge.
Study Illustration – 6: LCoE Reference Data for UK and Global Offshore/Onshore Wind
The UK government is committed to delivering on its 2050 commitment to net zero greenhouse gas emissions. In 2017, nearly 30% of the country’s energy was provided by wind/solar light renewable technologies.
The good news is that this new study finds that the periodicity and predictability of tides is exactly what benefits the grid over variable power technologies like wind/solar.