Powering the future

I have a few quid invested in the well-known forms of renewable energy.  The more successful investments are in managed funds which benefit from venture capital tax breaks.

But I’ve hitherto been missing what is surely the UK’s best renewable energy resource: the sea that surrounds us.  In particular the tidal flows that raise and lower vast amounts of water around our coast, completely reliably, every day.

Back in the 1990s when I worked with satellite images, one striking set showed the shallow waters of the North Sea off the Essex and Suffolk coast, where the phase of the tide can be seen from space due to the surface wave patterns caused by the rapid tidal flow in and out.  Mile after mile of shallow water and powerful, reliable flows: westward as the tide rises, eastward as it falls.  Why are we not installing underwater turbines to harness all that energy?  In places there are wind turbines harnessing an altogether more fickle source, so there is presumably even the infrastructure to erect turbines and harvest energy!

Well, I haven’t found anyone building tidal stream technology in the North Sea, but there is a credible alternative suitable for certain coastal locations and capable of generating substantial amounts.  And there is a project to build a tidal lagoon in Swansea Bay.  It looks like a win-win: they’ve gone to a lot of trouble to design a facility that serves not only to generate substantial power, but also to make an environmental and recreational virtue of it.  It appears to have a good level of local support, judging by what I can find in sources such as comments at the local paper’s website.

And the project is open for  investment.  And it’s offering EIS tax breaks, which are even better than the venture capital breaks I enjoy on other investments[1].  And due diligence gives me confidence in the management, not least the man in charge who has a very impressive track record and a lot of his own money at stake.

That’s a lot of very positive boxes ticked.  Today I finally got around to filling in the application form and writing my cheque.  I’m investing in our best future energy source.

[1] 30% tax break up-front, with a lock-in of just 3 years, compared to 5 for Venture Capital.  And further downside protection in that if the investment fails I can offset any losses against tax all over again.

Posted on July 9, 2013, in energy, environment, investment. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. I thought I recognised the name Mark Shorrock (Swansea Bay’s CEO). He’s a director of a solar farm co-op where I have made a small investment. He has a good track record in wind and solar, but Swansea Bay is without doubt the most technologically and financially ambitious of his projects to date. Curiously he’s a Tavistock boy too, though he lives in Wiltshire now, I believe.

    “Why are we not installing underwater turbines to harness all that energy?” Cos the technology is proving rather more difficult than one might think to get to a reliable, scalable stage. In a previous working life my organisation part-funded a couple of such trial designs with patchy results. It’s a bit like the early days of wind power. Plenty of under-resourced, underfunded but well-meaning folks were having a go. But it took some experienced engineers with serious cash and political will to get to where we are now. There are promising things on the horizon. The European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC) in Orkney is trialling Norwegian-designed in-stream underwater turbines at the moment, and something similar is going on in Canada’s Bay of Fundy. Interestingly there’s a preference for deep water sites with extreme tidal ranges (Fundy has one of the highest tidal ranges in the world as does the Severn, of course, hence the Swansea Bay project). I can understand this for barrage/lagoon technology, but it seems to be important for in-stream devices too.

  2. I note they’ve now submitted the project’s central planning application. And it seems pretty-much all the media coverage – both local and national – is favourable, which seems promising. The only naysayer would seem to be local MP Peter Hain, and his objection is that it’s not the altogether bigger, more ambitious but controversial Severn Barrage project.

    Dear Mr Hain, since the Swansea project lies outside the area of the Barrage proposal, the two should be able to coexist quite happily if they were both to get approval. So why not support this project as a valuable additional facility? And perhaps a testbed for some of the ideas/technologies that might be involved in the barrage if it ever gets approval? Not to mention perhaps even allaying some (not of course all) of the fears of the barrage’s opponents?

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