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 new research.

The School of Engineering’s Dr Athanasios Angeloudis is a co-author of the study which says 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.

Dr Angeloudis and the team reviewed marine environment modelling techniques, which are used to assess the power generating potential of tidal energy in the UK.

Role of renewables

The multi-university research, led by the University of Plymouth, was conducted in response to a call from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) for evidence on the opportunities presented by the tidal stream energy resource.

The UK Government has already committed to a Net Zero greenhouse gas emissions target by 2050 and, in 2017, almost 30% of the UK’s energy was generated through renewable technologies such as wind and solar power.

However, electricity demand is expected to more than double by 2050 and while wind and solar will be the main contributors to meet this demand, a diverse generation technology mix is needed to keep the lights on.

Government funding barriers and recent developments

While the researchers highlighted the pivotal role that tidal streams could play in meeting energy demand, they also emphasise that government funding is key to accelerating innovation and driving down cost so that future projects can provide cheap electricity.

In the past, access to government funding has helped install 18 MW 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.

However, cost reduction has slowed since funding has been removed. Extending such support is essential to enable tidal energy to become cost competitive with gas turbines, biomass, and nuclear.

The study was last week cited by SNP Westminster Leader Ian Blackford, when he announced that £20million new funding will be ringfenced for tidal stream energy as part of UK Government efforts to support the burgeoning industry. This government funding commitment was one of the study’s desired outcomes at the time of its publication.

However, Blackford urged the government to release significant further funding, saying, “The level of investment that we put in now will ultimately determine whether the industry will reach its potential on these shores or we miss the chance and let it slip through our grasp.”

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