Under the 2008 Climate Change Act, Britain has stated its intentions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80%. The country faces a titanic challenge, more so considering that initiatives to create renewable energy sources have largely died on the vine. Additionally, supplanting existing oil, coal, and gas power plants offers further logistical challenges.
Now, advocates for renewable energy are examining the benefits of a variety of projects, one of which is the Swansea Tidal Lagoon.
Tidal power is a relatively new idea, and the Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon would be the first of its kind. The lagoon itself is a walkable structure containing hydro turbines to harness both incoming and outgoing tides to generate power. The UK, possessing the second-highest tidal range in the world, is well-suited to adopt this type of power generation.
Artist’s depictions of the structure show the lagoon as a sort of promenade for runners, sightseers, and fishers. Recently approved by the UK, Swansea Bay is intended as a prototype for future tidal lagoons. So, it’s a step forward—but one that experts say is useless unless more are constructed.
“They only make sense if they come as a fleet,” said Professor Paul Elkins.
There are several reasons for these concerns, the first being the economies of scale that come with tidal lagoons. Larger projects generate much more power, and further projects will be more efficient and less costly as technology is approved. Though Swansea Bay is slated to power over 155,000 homes, this is a drop in a bucket when it comes to weaning the UK off of fossil fuels.
Still, many are optimistic about this experimentation with tidal power. Not only would the lagoons be emission-free, but their construction would provide a multitude of jobs to the surrounding area. Some figures even predict that larger lagoons could provide the cheapest electricity of all UK power stations.
The downsides of the Swansea Bay project are similar to the downsides of all alternative energy sources in the UK; that the government has been inconsistent in their planning and implementation of these new systems, despite the goals of the Climate Change Act. It’s difficult to talk government officials into committing to such large projects, particularly when they cost a large sum of money and do not immediately recoup their costs.
Furthermore, existing projects that have been in development for years, such as the UK zero-carbon homes scheme, have recently and suddenly been discontinued. This has created a sort of pessimism amongst the individuals attempting to bring these projects to life, concerned that their efforts will go unfinished.
Government commitment is not the only concern with alternative energy projects; upgrading storage methods is a crucial problem if power sources such as wind and solar wish to gain some measure of staying power. Inconsistent weather conditions can hamper progress and have remained the number one argument against alternative energy sources.
Pump storage projects are a possible way to better manage energy. By using excess power during peak times to pump water into reservoirs, water is then free to be released through turbines when more power is necessary. The UK already has several stations using this system, but will need to consider the logistics of creating further reservoirs to continue using this method for storage.
For now, it will be interesting to see what doors Swansea Bay’s upcoming system will open. It’s the start of a new era of energy infrastructure, one which will have a worldwide impact.