Following the recent Energy White Paper The Renewable Energy Centre announced it's support of the Government's decision to once again consider the benefits of tidal power, but voiced its concern regarding the environmental implications of the proposed Severn Barrage.
The tidal power industry moved a step forward on the publication of the Energy White Paper last month when Trade Secretary Alistair Darling highlighted the future importance of tidal power and stated the government intended to encourage the development of this valuable source of renewable energy.
The Sustainable Development Commission (SDC) is currently carrying out a major study on tidal power in the UK, covering a range of tidal technologies, their efficiency as well as their environmental and ecological effect. The Renewable Energy Centre has a section dedicated to tidal power and more information can be found at
The SDC report will also include an in-depth assessment of one of the white paper's main proposals for the harnessing of tidal power; the Severn Barrage. This structure would be built across the Severn Estuary and provide a true source of renewable energy. The location was selected due to its tidal range of nearly 14 kilometres, making it the second best place in the world after Canada's Bay of Fundy.
Since the barrage was initially proposed in 1849 there have been a number of different plans submitted for it's location and structure. The current plan proposes to stretch the barrage ten miles across the Seven Estuary linking Lavernock in South Wales to Brean Sown, near Weston Super Mare.
Planners say the barrage could be constructed within eleven years, powering 200 turbines and generating 5% of the UK's energy needs. The barrage would also provide a massive economic boost in the area, Secretary of State for Wales Peter Hain stated the barrage was predicted to create up to 35,000 jobs during its construction and 40,000 jobs in the longer term due to the increased economic stability it will bring.
However, The Renewable Energy Centre along with many environmental groups including Friends of the Earth fear the barrage would certainly destroy a unique and important eco-system and may even cause flooding. Consideration must also be given the amount of carbon dioxide which will be produced during the construction of the barrage, and how many years it will take for the renewable energy it produces to offset these emissions.
Richard Simmons, founder of The Renewable Energy Centre commented "There is no question that the Severn Barrage could generate a large amount of predictable and renewable energy but research must be done into the impact such a large structure will have on the local eco-systems as well as people and businesses in the area.
He continued "It is not before time that a major proposal of this kind has been seriously considered if we are ever to meet our carbon emission targets but it is important that we remember that the Severn barrage was dismissed in 2003's white paper. With advancing technology and the emergence of less damaging alternatives, the barrage could be even more of an unwise proposal now. Sub-surface turbines that harness the flow in naturally occurring tidal streams for example could generate far more energy and cause little environmental harm".
Friends of the Earth have also proposed alternative tidal technologies, including the construction of tidal lagoons in the Severn Estuary that would fill and drain through turbines. Initial research has shown that lagoons could also generate significant amounts of renewable power but at a considerably lower cost and less impact on the surrounding environment.
Whichever route the Government decides to take it is important to look at the bigger picture regarding world climate change. The tidal power of the Severn Estuary has the potential to produce up to 15GW of peak power, effectively replacing the need for 3 nuclear power stations.
The recent white paper assured that the Government has recognised the related problems associated with tidal power and will be studying the findings and recommendations of the Sustainable Development Commission (SDC) report when it is released in September, before announcing what it considers to the next best step.
For more information on tidal power and other renewable technologies please visit www.TheRenewableEnergyCentre.co.uk
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