Given that Britain is an island, it is surprising that there has not been greater use of wave technology to generate electricity; instead there has been an emphasis on wind generation. There is however something surreal about a land or seascape which has been conquered by wind turbines, which stand like alien beings, looking down at passing humans and giving off a slight hum as they generate electricity. Alfred Hitchcock would surely have had fun making a movie about them.
Now, however, Prudential has announced an investment of £100 million into a proposed £850 million project in Swansea Bay which, using tidal power and 16 turbines, will not only create a lagoon as a base for water sports, but also provide a tourist attraction supported by a new shell-like visitor centre attracting up to 100,000 visitors a year, providing welcome support for the local economy. Perhaps the reason why wave technology has not been adopted is initial cost. While the project is currently more expensive per MWh than wind turbines, the cost should reduce as other similar projects are developed. Four others are proposed, including one in Liverpool Bay and one in Colwyn Bay. The five could together generate up to 1/10th of the UK’s electric power needs, quite a substantial amount.
The project, which is currently seeking planning permission, will harness the tidal movement between low and high tides, estimated to be the amount in 100,000 Olympic swimming pools every day. Environmentalists are obviously cautious, but nature has a way of adjusting and taking advantage of new situations as long as a unique habitat is not threatened. The new seawall containing the lagoon and housing the turbines will be about six miles long, and it is estimated that electricity will be generated for around 120,000 homes for 120 years, which is substantially longer than the predicted life of wind turbines. It is estimated that the project will create or support 1,900 fte jobs during construction and up to 181 jobs on an ongoing basis, with an annual impact from ongoing operations and tourism of £76 million per annum.
While more expensive initially, if more projects come on stream thus reducing the unit costs and if the regeneration and employment benefits can be realised, then this must be something to be seriously looked at in appropriate locations.