Tidal wave of change has new energy

An aerial view of Heysham Port.
An aerial view of Heysham Port.

Chief reporter NICK LAKIN discovers how a strong government and some long-term joined up thinking could lead to a combined tidal lagoon, bridge over Morecambe Bay, and route for the National Grid’s North West Coastal Connections project - bringing regeneration, jobs and tourism to the bay area...

Renowned for its shifting sands and dangerous waters, as well as being a global cradle for migrating birds, another limelight is currently being shone on this natural powerhouse.

Over the past four years, worldwide and in the UK, the commercial energy sector has been showing an increasing interest in the production of tidal energy, seeing an economically viable future in the technology.

The numbers on tidal energy are still being debated, but the government’s energy secretary Ed Davey says that wave and tidal has the potential to produce 20 per cent of the UK’s energy needs.

EDF Energy, which runs Heysham Power Stations, itself operates a tidal barrage in Brittany, France, which produces enough power for 225,000 homes and has a lifespan of 125 years.

A £1bn tidal lagoon in Swansea Bay, which would be the first of its kind in the UK and power an estimated 155,000 homes, is currently going through planning processes.

Last month, Lancaster architect Mo Kelly hosted a seminar at The Storey in the city entitled “Tidal Energy – a new future for the UK?”.

The meeting room was packed with over 100 people, all wanting to hear about the potential of Morecambe Bay to produce predictable, safe, clean long-term energy twice a day.

Lancaster University’s Dr George Aggidis, who spoke at the meeting, said that now was the right time for a project like this to take place. He said: “Here in the UK we’ve become net importers, and we’re right at the end of the pipeline.

“We need much more independence and we have excellent resources we can tap into.

“It’s costly up front and a government will need to be strong to take a decision on something that has such a long life span, but at the same time, if something like this is to take place, now is the right time. It can easily be a part of our energy mix.”

Dr Aggidis also confirmed that Lancaster University was willing to engage and offer support with the development of hydro/tidal energy projects of all sizes including those proposed by small privately funded local initiatives.

He said: “It will also help with regeneration, job creation, flood protection, tourism - all this coupled together makes it start to look really attractive.

“Combine this with a road link between Heysham and Barrow-in-Furness, and a route for the proposed North West Coastal Connection (NWCC), and it will produce many benefits.”

MP for Lancaster and Fleetwood Eric Ollerenshaw, who also sits on the All Party Group on the Severn Barrages and Other Barrages, said that he agreed with the idea in principle, but argued more needed to be done to bring tidal energy to the forefront.

He said: “What we need is a tidal energy policy statement, and a good practical example of how it would work. Swansea might be the one to do that. A plan for a barrage on the river Wyre in 1991 never came to fruition, yet the potential is there.

“We seem to be doing a lot in terms of wind farms, but nothing in terms of tidal.

“The difficulty is getting the investment for something that will only start to see returns after 10 or 15 years.”

Mr Ollerenshaw said that there would need to be a further six big tidal projects across the country, with the Solway Firth and Morecambe Bay being big potential players.

Mo Kelly is optimistic about the potential of Morecambe Bay becoming one such site.

She said: “In the UK, two major tidal energy projects are expected to commence construction in 2015 and will be delivering energy into the National Grid within the next three years, one project is at Caithness off the northwest coast of Scotland, the other is an offshore tidal lagoon at Swansea Bay in South Wales. The reasons for locating a tidal lagoon at Swansea Bay are strikingly similar to those present at Morecambe Bay.

“The site at Swansea was chosen because it benefits from the second highest tidal range in the world, the site is in close proximity to high population centres and to the National Grid, resulting in negligible energy loss through transmission. Swansea Bay and Morecambe Bay both benefit from having a good supporting road transport network into a port giving both road and sea access during construction and beyond.”

The meeting at The Storey was sponsored by the North Lancashire Green Party.

Phil Chandler, who is the Green Party’s parliamentary candidate for Morecambe and Lunesdale said: “I believe that with more investment this area could be the European centre of research for production of tidal and wave technologies, providing jobs by drawing on the local marine engineering expertise, and leading academic researchers based in Lancaster. There is clearly much more investigation to be done as to the potential of Morecambe Bay as a site itself, but as Dr Aggidis highlighted, the whole of the North West coast has key areas that could be explored if there were commitment from government. What is needed is investment in more small scale pilot projects to test the newer technologies such as the less environmentally damaging tidal lagoons, such as the one announced in Swansea.”