Tidal stream power has the potential to deliver 11% of the UK’s current annual electricity and play a significant role in the government’s drive for net-zero, according to research by the University of Plymouth.
The study stated that harnessing the power of the ocean’s tidal streams can provide a “predictable and reliable” means of helping to meet the country’s future energy demand.
The study also highlighted that opportunities to accelerate innovation and drive down cost of tidal generation technology are not presently available “given the way the UK Government’s renewable energy funding schemes are configured”.
In the past, access to government funding has helped install 18MW of tidal stream capacity, around 500 times less than the UK’s current offshore wind capacity.
This relatively modest funding support to date has put the tidal stream sector on a steep cost reduction trajectory.
Cost reduction has slowed since access to funding has been removed. Extending such support is essential to enable it to become cost competitive with gas turbines, biomass, and nuclear, said the study.
The study also explored the potential environmental effects of such future developments and found no evidence to suggest that the next phase of tidal stream development will cause significant detrimental environmental impact.
The physical environmental impacts are expected to be an order of magnitude less than those created by climate change.
The study is published in Royal Society Proceedings A.
Danny Coles, research fellow at the University of Plymouth and the study’s lead author, said: “Our study shows there is considerable evidence to support an estimate that the UK and British Channel Islands’ tidal stream energy resource can provide 11% of our current annual electricity demand.
“Achieving this would require around 11.5GW of tidal stream turbine capacity to be installed, and we currently stand at just 18 MW.
“It took the UK offshore wind industry approximately 20 years to reach 11.5GW of installed capacity. If tidal stream power is going to contribute to the net zero transition, time is of the essence.”
The regions with the highest tidal stream resource are the Pentland Firth and Orkney Waters, Scotland, and the Channel Islands – but both would require major grid infrastructure to connect them to high demand centres.
In tandem with that, however, other sites could be more easily developed on the South Coast of England and in the Bristol Channel, as they are in closer proximity to existing grid infrastructure and demand centres, the study found.