The future of sustainability seems to rely almost exclusively on solar and wind energy, the most iconic sources of the green or renewable energies. Nothing could be further from the truth. Probably the most constant and predictable renewable energy source, as well as one of the most promising ones, is tidal energy. This energy source is very abundant in the British and Irish coasts.
But what exactly is tidal energy? The interaction of the gravitational fields of the Sun, the Moon and the Earth generate fast sea currents. These currents can be enhanced by some capricious coastal shapes: headlands, straits, inlets, channels, etc. Luckily, the UK is a blessed country in this regard. In fact, the UK represents about 50% of Europe’s tidal power capacity. The institutional willingness to make this renewable energy one of the leading green industries in the UK has placed the country as the undisputed global leader in marine energy (that also includes wave energy, very abundant in the UK too).
UK’s Bet on Tidal Energy
UK authorities realized some years ago how beneficial it could be to invest in tidal power, both economically and environmentally. So they began to create the necessary infrastructure to capitalize on the marine currents in UK waters. Both the government and the Crown Estate (an independent commercial business that owns the seabed around the UK as stewardship) have played and continue to play a leading role in the development of tidal energy technology.
Government Tidal Power Initiatives
The government has aligned its energy policies with European guidelines. In that sense, it has signed up to the agreement to obtain 20% of European energy generation from renewable sources by 2020. It has sponsored several organizations that overall cover a wide range of the renewable energy spectrum, as well as setting an appropriate environment for private investment.
When it comes to tidal energy, one of the biggest milestones was the foundation of the European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC), in 2003. The government, together with other public sector organizations and institutions (the EU among them), has invested around £34 million in this centre. EMEC provides developers of both wave and tidal energy technologies with purpose-built, open-sea, accredited testing facilities.
Another very important actor established in this field by the UK government is the Offshore Renewable Energy (ORE) Catapult (2013), a technology innovation, research and testing centre not only for wave and tidal power, but also for offshore wind power. It is part of the Catapult centres, a UK network founded by Innovative UK in order to boost national hi-tech businesses by connecting them to research institutions.
Those two centres, together with the Advanced Forming Research Centre (ARFC), that is involved in other Catapult project, launched a joint project to improve marine components reliability.
The UK government also set up the £50 million Marine Renewables Deployment Fund, in 2004, and the £22 million Marine Renewables Proving Fund, in 2009, aimed at supporting the development of the marine renewables sector.
The Crown Estate Role in Tidal Energy Development
The Crown Estate is a commercial business that invests, among other sectors, in agricultural and strategic land, as well as in the seabed. It is a key part in the process of developing the marine energy industry. Its primarily role consists of leasing and managing the associated rights of the UK’s seabed.
The Crown Estate cooperates with organizations across government, businesses and stakeholders. It has leased over 40 sites for tidal and wave projects, and is involved in research and technical studies. It has also developed The Wave and Tidal Knowledge Network, a portal that facilitates the exchange of information in this sector.
Future Trends in UK Tidal Energy: a Bright Future
The UK government and private sector actors commitment to boost the marine power industry is very solid in the medium and even in the long term, as far as the latest data and news show. Many new initiatives are emerging currently, and this is only the beginning. This allows us to predict a great future for UK’s sustainable tides.