Select Committee on Science and Technology Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum submitted by Mr Peter Fraenkel, Managing Director, Marine Current Turbines Ltd


  1.  This memorandum consists of an introduction to explain the interest and experience of the submitting organisation in tidal stream (or non-barrier tidal energy) plus a brief outline of the strategic importance of developing marine renewable energy resources. This is followed by 10 distinct and important reasons why we believe tidal stream technology of the kind we are developing has excellent prospects for becoming technically, economically and hence commercially viable, together with an explanation as to why it has only recently become a practical option. Following the introduction we have taken each of the issues described as being of special interest to the Committee and provided a brief response specific to tidal stream or non-barrier tidal energy.


Marine Current Turbines Ltd and its involvement in technology development

  2.  Marine Current Turbines Ltd (MCT) has been set up specifically to develop and commercialise technology for the exploitation of tidal and other marine currents. In other words, to exploit kinetic energy of flowing water in much the same way that wind turbines exploit the kinetic energy in the atmosphere. We believe we are unique in our specialisation in this field and that the technology we are developing (for which we hold patents) has the potential to be a world leader.

  3.  MCT was originally founded by IT Power Ltd (ITP), a technical consultancy company with 20 years' experience of all aspects of renewable energy. ITP has completed a number of pioneering projects on tidal (and river) current energy, mainly in partnership with other organisations; these include several projects funded by the European Commission and the DTI which will be summarised below. Since ITP is primarily a consultancy company, MCT was formed recently as a more appropriate vehicle to develop commercial technology.

  4.  MCT has been instrumental in forming a consortium of companies with a common interest in developing tidal stream technology, including IT Power Ltd, Seacore Ltd., (a leading company in offshore engineering which has installed the world's first offshore windfarm), Bendalls Engineering (a manufacturer of high quality steel fabrications, primarily so far for the petroleum and the nuclear industries), and Corus UK Ltd (formerly British Steel). Each of these companies brings a unique capability which will be required in the development of the technology and all of them can benefit from the commercial development which it is expected will result. There is also an international dimension through part funding of the first phase of our R&D project by the European Commission (contracted to IT Power) which involves A Friederich Flender, the world's leading manufacturer of wind turbine gearboxes and their associated company Loher which builds marine electrical generators and seabed mounted pumping equipment for the offshore oil and gas industry. At the time of writing it seems likely that the inputs from our German partners will be financially supported by their government as well as by the EC.

  5.  The topics to be studied by the Select Committee are especially important to us, since we have requested financial support of the first phase of our R&D programme from the DTI, who have received a proposal requesting approximately £930,000 support from the UK Government towards the cost of a £2 million initial project to install an experimental tidal turbine off the coast of North Devon in 2002. The DTI have in turn appointed independent consultants, Binnie, Black & Veatch to evaluate the potential viability of the technology we propose developing, and BBV are due to deliver a draft report to the DTI during the course of February 2001. Moreover we believe a measure of public state support is necessary for the technology to receive the credibility to attract finance from the private sector; energy systems that are not seen to be approved of by government seem unlikely to develop any momentum.

Importance of marine renewable energy resources in general

  6.  Most renewable energy technologies require significant space, mainly because the energy resources they are based on are diffuse. Land-based renewable energy technologies are already facing constraints due to conflicts over land-use, but the seas offer huge open spaces where future new energy technologies could be deployed on a grand scale, without serious negative impact on either the environment or on other human activities. Arguably, unless we develop and use marine renewable energy resources we will not be able to meet our future energy needs without continuing to burn increasing quantities of fossil fuels simply because there is insufficient space in areas of high population to deploy renewable energy systems on a large enough scale to meet future energy needs. This is the main argument for investing in these new and so far little-developed offshore clean energy solutions. However, marine renewable energy resources are generally more costly and difficult to access than the land-based options, at least initially (which is why experience with them so far is quite limited).

Ten reasons why tidal current, (non barrier tidal) are likely to be technically and commercially viable as an energy resource

  7.  1.  Higher energy intensity than most renewables: the energy captured per annum for each square metre of tidal turbine rotor at the locations with sufficiently fast currents for economic exploitation is in the order of four to 10 times more than that from a wind turbine at a good wind location and over 30 times greater than that of a solar photovoltaic array in a location such as the Sahara desert. Tidal turbines can therefore be relatively small in relation to their power rating compared with other renewable energy technologies. For example, a 1MW tidal turbine rotor would be less than 20m in diameter whereas a typical 1MW wind turbine needs a rotor of about 60m in diameter. Small is beautiful in this respect, as capital costs relate to size.

  8.  2.  Predictable energy: the energy in tidal streams is generated by the tides, so unlike the randomly produced energy from weather-dependent renewables such as wind, sun or waves, our technology will deliver electricity to a timetable predictable for years or even decades in advance; this makes the electrical output inherently more valuable to an electricity utility as future electricity sales can be contracted at known times when a premium might be gained due to high demand.

  9.  3.  Large resource: although tidal currents with sufficient velocity to offer the possibility of cost-effective energy production only occur at comparatively few locations, such as around headlands and in straits, the resource is known to be large enough to deliver tens if not hundreds of terrawatt-hours per annum. Several especially energetic locations around the UK coasts are expected to have the velocity over a large enough area to permit the installation of projects of up to several gigawatts of installed capacity.

  10.  4.  Favourable load factor: tidal turbines can achieve a higher capacity factor or load factor than is common with wind turbines, potentially in the range 35 to 40 per cent with a conventional two-tide regime (wind turbine capacity factors tend to be in the 25 to 35 per cent range). Hence the energy captured per megawatt of installed capacity is likely to be up to 50 per cent higher from a tidal turbine farm than from a wind turbine farm, yet wind turbines are already a viable method for power generation.

  11.  5.  Compactness—projects need less sea-space than offshore wind: because the flow of tidal currents is generally bi-directional (rather than multi-directional as with winds) tidal turbines can be packed closely together transversely across the flow so that the power density of a tidal turbine farm is in the order of 50 to 100MW/km2 compared with perhaps 10 to 20MW/km2 for a wind turbine. Therefore less sea-space is needed for a given installed capacity of tidal turbines and cable costs for interconnecting the turbines are significantly reduced. There are also other technical reasons why close packing of turbines can reduce costs.

  12.  6.  Low visual impact allows location close to shore: tidal current turbines can be either totally submerged and out of sight, or (preferably) surface-piercing but with a limited visual profile. Therefore they are likely to be acceptable much closer to the shore than wind farms and this again can result in significant cost savings through the shorter electrical connection to the shore.

  13.  7.  Low cost and robust steel construction based largely on conventional engineering: the tidal turbine we are developing is based on fabricated steel, more like a ship than an aircraft, which is a relatively low cost and robust means of construction. Moreover, the basic principles involved are well-understood and the systems can be built largely from components that have already been developed for use in other contexts; for example the rotor and drive train are not dissimilar technically from a hydropower bulb turbine, or a large submersible pump or, for that matter, a modern ship's thruster or "Azipod". Therefore we believe the development risks are relatively low and reliable technology can be demonstrated reasonably quickly. We hope and expect that commercial projects can be initiated within three to four years of initiating the R&D programme providing the necessary resources materialise.

  14.  8.  Modular technology—turbines can be installed on a small or on a large scale: tidal stream turbines can be installed in small batches on a modular basis and the lead time for installation can be relatively short (a few months). Hence there is a lot of flexibility in the size of possible projects (they can start small and be extended at reduced marginal cost later) and also revenue can be realised relatively soon after the capital investment costs are incurred, with less risk of serious cost over-runs than for non-modular large projects. Tidal barrages or large scale hydro are quite inflexible in this respect, with little scope for expansion to meet increasing demand and long lead times for construction during which large cost over-runs can occur before a penny of revenue is generated.

  15.  9.  Underwater conditions are relatively benign: although the sea appears to be a harsh environment, conditions more than 5m below the surface are relatively calm and predictable; there is no underwater equivalent of a hurricane. Waves decay rapidly with depth, especially where there are strong currents. As a result the tidal turbine technology we are developing needs to be designed to survive extreme loadings that are much closer to the design conditions than for wind or wave energy devices. Hence the degree of overdesign needed to withstand rare extreme conditions is relatively small, as is risk of damage from storms. Reduced extreme loads lead to greater cost-effectiveness. Common concerns about corrosion protection and marine growth can be readily countered using techniques such as cathodic protection developed from experience with offshore oil and gas development; however steel structures installed in the North Sea during the Second World War still stand 60 years later even without cathodic protection. There is no reason why the supporting structure for tidal steam turbines should not have a life of half a century or more, much like the civil works for a hydro plant.

  16.  10.  Tidal turbines are expected to have a minimal environmental impact: they can generate electricity for decades without pollution. The rotors need to rotate a low speeds (to avoid cavitation) and therefore pose no real threat to fish or marine mammals; a ship's propeller typically rotates at 10 times the speed of our turbine rotors, and moreover the turbine stays in one place but ships move, often at faster speeds than marine fauna.

  17.  The combination of these advantages ought to indicate a technology that could offer some of the least costly electricity possible from any source, least costly in terms of both cash and environmental damage. Detailed analysis of the likely costs of the technology leads us to believe these benefits can be realised within a relatively limited time frame and from a relatively low cost R&D programme using already known engineering techniques.

A frequently asked question is, "why, if this is such a good idea, has it not been done before?"

  18.  Answer—as soon as any engineer starts to evaluate the technical requirements for installing a tidal turbine in the sea, a number of seemingly daunting problems arise. The main problems are firstly how to hold a turbine rotor securely enough that it cannot be swept away; for example the thrust on the rotor of a 1MW tidal turbine rotor running at full power is in the order of 100 tonnes force, which of course poses a significant structural or mooring problem. Secondly how, if you need to carry out work on the system, can you do this underwater with fast moving currents? Slack tide is a matter of minutes, and conditions at energetic locations are the underwater equivalent of a storm swept mountain top, so it is virtually impossible for divers or ROVs to function effectively. However the breakthrough that makes the technology we are developing feasible is the result of a relatively recent technical breakthrough, the possibility of installing steel piles (large steel tubes) in holes in the seabed drilled from a jackup barge. A jackup barge can raise itself on legs like a table to provide a steady platform above the sea from which all the installation work can be completed. Moreover the patented turbine concept we are developing is mounted on a pile in such a way that it can be raised above the surface of the sea for maintenance or repair. In other words, we have found a relatively low cost structure with the integrity to support a large turbine or turbines with solid reliability for many decades and the entire system can be installed, serviced and replaced without any need for underwater operations; everything is done from either a jackup barge or surface work boats. Without this approach we do not think the exploitation of tidal currents would be a practical proposition.

  19.  It is worth noting that the most cost-effective solution for installing offshore wind turbines is also on mono-piles for much the same reasons.


Technological viability. Is the technology available for efficient generation of power from waves and tides?

  20.  The concept of using tidal currents as an energy resource has not been seriously taken up until relatively recently (the 1980s and 90s). Only limited resources have been available so far to permit experimentation and research (the European Commission has been the largest donor by far, but even the EC has only funded about half a dozen projects in this field). As a result, most of the work so far has been either theoretical or else small scale experimentation. "Full-size" pilot projects are now needed to take the technology forward as the main uncertainties relate to implementation, operation, cost and reliability.

  21.  The concept we are developing has reached the stage where it is ready for a "full-scale" pilot project, and it is hoped to install a 300kW demonstrator and test bed off the coast of Devon in 2002. The EC has part funded this work and a design has been developed and costed, a site has been identified and surveyed and permissions have been requested from all the relevant authorities. The indications are that the necessary permissions will be granted. The industrial partners have pledged to contribute a significant financial component and an application has been made to the DTI for the necessary top-up finance to carry this phase of a planned R&D programme to a successful conclusion by 2004. The DTI has responded reasonably positively by appointing Binnie, Black and Veatch as independent consultants to confirm or disprove the claimed viability of the technology for commercial development. B, B & V are due to submit a draft report to the DTI during February 2001.

  22.  Given that the proposed project just outlined goes ahead, a second phase will follow a year later to develop and install a twin rotor commercial prototype. This will be installed by 2003-04. A third phase is also planned to be the first tidal turbine "farm", consisting of at least four twin rotor turbines capable of delivering in the order of 3 to 5MW between them and it is planned for 2004-05. This third phase will be partially self financing from revenue from the sale of electricity. The development of commercial tidal turbine projects will follow immediately thereafter in 2005-06. Marine Current Turbines Ltd's business plan envisages the possibility of installing in the order of 300MW worth of turbines by 2010, so the technology could make a significant contribution to the Government's target for 10 per cent renewable energy generation by that year.

Commercial viability. Will wave and tidal energy become commercially viable in the near future and attractive to the private sector as a profitable investment?

  23.  We have completed detailed technical and economic analysis and believe the concept we have under development has the potential to generate electricity within five years for less than 4p/kWh, providing reasonably large projects (minimum size 20 to 30MW) are carried out (to share the fixed overheads between sufficient turbines). We believe that in the longer term, thanks to the high energy intensity of tidal currents, generating costs of less than 3p/kWh can be achieved. Therefore this is one of the few large scale renewable energy concepts capable of competing directly with fossil fuel on a generating cost basis.

Present (and recent) projects. What projects are currently running in the UK and how successful have they been? Why did past projects fail?

  24.  There are as yet no commercial projects as the technology for large scale power generation from marine currents is still at an early stage of development. However, there are a number of relevant R&D activities known to be current. These include . . .

Present UK based projects

  25.  "The commercial prospects for tidal stream power", 2000-01, study led by Binnie, Black & Veatch (with IT Power and Marine Current Turbines Ltd) funded by the DTI, to review viability of performance and cost models for tidal turbine under development by Marine Current Turbines Ltd.

  26.  "Optcurrent"—Optimising the performance of Tidal Current Turbines—EC Joule Programme project JO3-CT98-0205, 1998-2001: This project is led by Prof. Ian Bryden, Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen in partnership with IT Power, University College, Cork (Ireland) and Thetis (Italy). The main goal of this project is the development of a methodology for optimum matching, both technical and economic, of tidal current turbines to given local flow conditions. This involves development of techniques involving 3D modelling of marine current flows and of taking spot readings at sea to feed into the models.

  27.  "Seaflow"—World's First Pilot project for the exploitation of marine currents at a commercial scale—EC Joule Programme Project JOR3-CT98-0202, 1998-2002: this is intended as the first phase of the R&D programme planned by Marine Current Turbines Ltd. This project was launched in September 1998. It involves the development of what is expected to be the world's first "commercial scale" marine current turbine, a system rated at 300kW to be installed on a mono-pile, socketed into the seabed in SW UK coastal waters. The target date for commissioning the system is summer 2002. Marine Current Turbines Ltd was formed to take on the commercial development of the technology.

  28.  Engineering Business "Active Water Column Generator": The Engineering Business (a UK company) has invented a new scheme for extracting energy from tidal streams. This patented scheme is called the Active Water Column Generator (AWCG). This development work was partially funded by a DTI Smart Award. The device converts continuous flow into an oscillating action. It is claimed the results are encouraging and that developments leading to a large scale demonstrator are under way.

  29.  "Potential for using marine currents in the Philippines": Marine Current Turbines Ltd has a "Climate Change Challenge Fund" award from the FCO to study the potential for using tidal currents in the Philippines, working in partnership with the Philippines Department of Energy. The indications are that the Philippines and other island nations in the Pacific Rim have large current kinetic energy resources and they also have major problems in finding viable on-shore renewable energy resources capable of meeting more than a fraction of their future energy needs. Hence there is considerable interest in this project.

Recent UK Based Projects (Post 1990)

  30.  UK Tidal Stream Review, 1992-03: desk study led by Engineering and Power Development Consultants with Binnie & Partners, Sir Robert McAlpine & Sons, and IT Power. Report published by ETSU and the DTI as T/05/00155, 1993. This was the first officially supported attempt to evaluate a national tidal current resource. This desk study confirmed that there is a large tidal current energy resource, capable theoretically of meeting some 19 per cent of present total UK electricity demand, but not economically under the cautious costing assumptions applied at that time. The most favourable results estimated that there could be a resource of about 20TWh/yr in UK waters capable of being exploited at a cost of up to 10p/kWh at a discount rate of 8 per cent. The technology hypothesised consisted of axial flow rotors mounted on gravity foundations on the seabed.

  31.  Axial Flow tidal turbine "Proof of Concept" project—by Scottish Nuclear, IT Power and NEL (formerly the National Engineering Laboratory): in 1993-04, a consortium consisting of IT Power, Scottish Nuclear and NEL developed an axial flow 3.5m diameter rotor suspended below a floating catamaran pontoon. It successfully developed some 15kW in 2.25m/s current velocity at Loch Linnhe, Scotland in 1994 and although quite small, it remains the largest marine current turbine so far demonstrated. It successfully met its limited objectives and highlighted problems with mooring floating tidal current turbines.

  32.  The Exploitation of Tidal/Marine Currents—EC Joule Programme—JOU2-CT94-0355—1994-06: technical study carried out by IT Power and Tecnomare (UK). DGXII of the EU supported a technical and a resource assessment of marine current energy in Europe. The technical study (completed in 1996) examined relevant technology from related areas (wind, hydropower, maritime, and offshore) and found that electricity cost from tidal current turbines is specially sensitive to the size of machine, economic parameters (lifetime, discount rate), O&M costs, and the load factor obtainable at a particular site. It estimated electricity unit costs for "First Generation systems" at around 0.05 EU/kWh (3.5p/kWh) for a 3m/s rated current under favourable circumstances (ie with a high load factors).

  33.  Feasibility Study of Tidal Current Power Generation for Coastal Waters: Orkney and Shetland—ICIT—1995: The Regional and Urban Energy Programme, DGXVII of the EU financed a feasibility study on supplying Orkney and Shetland with electricity from tidal stream turbines. Island communities, which frequently have higher than normal conventional energy costs, may offer an attractive initial market for electricity from tidal streams. This programme was co-ordinated by Dr Ian Bryden, then of the international Centre for Island Technology at Stromness and IT Power worked on hypothesising the turbine technology. Actual on-site current measurements were used for the first time in conjunction with a 3D computer model to produce detailed tidal stream characteristics for two sites. Consideration of a cluster of eight turbines of 20m diameter mounted on steel mono-piles gave a predicted electricity cost of approximately 6p/kWh.

Renewables strategy. What role should wave and tidal energy have in the Government's renewable energy strategy? Should they be a higher priority?

  34.  It is already accepted in many quarters that the post-Kyoto target of meeting 10 per cent of the nation's energy needs from renewables is unlikely to be feasible if we rely solely on onshore renewables, due to conflicts over land use. As a result, offshore wind is now widely considered to be an essential component to achieve the government's target, mainly because that seems the only way wind energy can be exploited on a sufficiently large scale. It has also turned out to be less costly and less difficult than originally projected. However, the marine renewables, tidal currents and waves, are more intense than wind as a resource and therefore potentially more cost-effective; they are just less well understood or developed. Moreover, some of the problems of developing the new marine renewables are generic, for example installation techniques and interconnection of systems with each other and the grid, so work in one area could benefit others.

  35.  A generic problem with all the offshore renewables is that they cannot readily be tested on a reduced scale (there is a minimum size of equipment that can be installed in the sea and survive offshore conditions) and they will also need to be deployed in large numbers for commercial viability, due to the high fixed overheads involved in connecting them to the grid and for the mobilisation and development of the installation process.

  36.  Therefore there needs to be a strategy to demonstrate tidal stream and wave energy on a realistic scale for large scale replication as rapidly as possible. This is primarily to get the experience necessary to understand the practical problems, and how they might be overcome and to give the technologies the credibility and reduce the perceived risk so as to attract the private sector investment needed to take them to commercial reality. This might be seen as a form of public private partnership, with the state helping to incentivise the private sector to invest in technology that is essential to solve the huge problem of providing clean energy in the future for the benefit for all.

  37.  Tidal currents can almost certainly be taken forward to commercial development within a relatively short period (around five years), due to being largely based on well understood engineering principles, and through using already available engineering techniques and components. Wave energy, on the other hand, may take longer to mature due to the much harsher extreme conditions that the systems need to withstand and also due to the lack of clarity as to which form of technology is likely to succeed first.

  38.  Both the Marine Foresight panel report "Energies from the Sea—Towards 2020" (April 1999) and the House of Lords Select Committee on the European Communities report "Electricity from Renewables" (June 1999) advocated that the Government should support R&D on tidal stream technology, but until now there has been no DTI policy on whether or not "tidal stream" should be part of its programme. The recently commissioned study by Binnie, Black & Veatch (see above) is the first significant commitment to looking at tidal stream for the DTI since the 1992 Tidal Stream Review (also referred to earlier). It is certainly to be hoped that following the B B & V report, the government will include tidal stream as an integral and important part of its renewable energy programme, with a view to seeing it making a significant contribution (more than 100MW) to the national electricity supply by 2010, something which will almost certainly be achievable given suitable financial and political support.

  39.  To achieve this aim, there is a need for a well structured R&D programme that will require significant government funding to kick it off, but which, once under way should increasingly attract private sector finance. Public finance should no doubt be provided on a competitive basis and any form of technology that gains support might have a phased development plan with pre-defined "milestones" to be reached before further funding can be forthcoming. However, the Government needs to share the risk with the private sector participants, especially at the early stages, as even the most promising ideas can run into unforeseen problems that take a bit more time and expense to solve. No novel method of energy generation has ever been effectively pioneered without some government support and it would be unreasonable to expect an infant industry to develop purely as a result of "market forces", especially in an area of technology that is so highly dependent on legislative arrangements (eg NETA).

  40.  Since one of the main reasons for advocating the development of tidal stream technology is that it is a potentially low cost power source, the necessary R&D programme's costs can also be reasonably modest. Marine Current Turbines Ltd has a planned programme to develop commercial technology which will probably require a total investment in R&D of no more than about £15 to £20 million, some of which can be debt financed from electricity sales revenue, which is a small amount of investment to develop an entirely new energy technology with potential for much larger scale development.

Research and Development. What Research and Development is being undertaken at present? How much funding is available, and how easy is it for innovative ideas to gain support? Is national funding for R&D being well co-ordinated? What sort of peer-review processes are undertaken?

  41.  The present and recent tidal stream R&D projects in the UK were summarised earlier. Virtually all of them have been either funded in whole or in part by the European Commission, often with the partners providing matching funds from internal resources. This area of technology has not so far been supported by the UK government as part of the DTI's renewable energy programme, although EPSRC has invited universities and research institutions in the UK to submit proposals for research in the area of tidal stream following the favourable recommendations in 1999 from the "Foresight" initiative. As a result a number of small research projects have started recently in several UK universities, although unfortunately it is believed the last call from EPSRC failed to generate any new projects in this field, despite several proposals having been submitted.

  42.  The situation has improved recently in that it is understood (from informal discussions) that the DTI does not rule out support for tidal stream R&D in its recent call for proposals for renewable energy R&D. Also other bodies such as the Industry Technology Facilitator (ITF), a not for profit organisation based in Aberdeen and owned by 16 oil and gas operating companies, has recently invited proposals for R&D on topics including tidal stream energy, although any projects resulting from this need to be aimed at meeting oil industry needs.

Environmental aspects. What are the environmental implications of wave and tidal energy, particularly for marine life? How will such devices affect shipping?

  43.  An obvious worry is whether marine fauna are at risk from impact with the revolving rotor blades of a tidal stream turbine. The conclusion was that the environmental impact including risk of injury to wildlife is likely to be very low. It should be noted that a tidal turbine rotor is limited to a rotor blade tip velocity of no more than around 15m/s (ie approx. 30 knots) to avoid loss of efficiency due to cavitation, and most sea creatures found in areas of high currents can swim at similar velocities. In contrast, the average ship propeller rotates 10 times faster than a tidal stream turbine and moreover is a much greater threat since the vessel it is attached to may be moving at a much faster speed than fish or marine mammals, whereas the tidal turbine is of course fixed in one spot.

  44.  An environmental impact study was completed in connection with the project "Feasibility Study of Tidal Current Power Generation for Coastal Waters: Orkney and Shetland—ICIT—1995" referred to earlier, because clearly there is special concern in those islands to avoid causing any harm to marine mammals such as seals. This study found that the risk from tidal turbines to the environment is likely to be minimal (and of course the benefits from avoided atmospheric pollution if the technology "takes off" will be large).

  45.  Tidal stream turbines will pose an obstacle for shipping, although most of the best high energy locations with fast currents are usually close to a rocky shore, and are not in areas that are used as shipping lanes. All the resource studies so far carried out have assumed that only areas outside regular shipping lanes can be used for tidal stream energy systems. The turbines will of course be clearly marked on marine charts and will carry the gamut of necessary navigation aids including lights, radar reflectors and foghorns. Arguably they may serve to assist navigation in the same way that navigation buoys do, by being more identifiable to mariners than unmarked and often hazardous natural features nearby. It is likely that large tidal stream projects will need to be part of a shipping and fisheries exclusion zone. However, the sea has an enormous area and even the largest marine current projects will need to use only a small part of the space available.

  46.  There could also be a conflict with fishing, although it is not normal to fish at locations with peak currents of several knots for obvious reasons.

  47.  In the last analysis, no energy technology can be completely lacking in environmental impact, but tidal steam technology looks likely to offer less negative environmental impact than most.

International comparisons. How does Britain compare with other comparable nations in R&D in this field? What projects are currently being undertaken abroad and how successful have they been?"

  48.  We believe the UK has a technical lead in the field of tidal stream technology, together with interested industrial partners capable of extending the lead and developing a unique British capability of supplying the world with tidal turbine technology (probably with German participation).

  49.  Given the necessary government backing to allow a rapid and effective R&D programme to go ahead, then there seems no reason why the UK might not gain a major new industry within 10 years, with considerable export potential, for hardware, licensed production and services. This could be achieved as part of the solution to the problem of meeting our clean energy needs through simultaneously developing projects to use the technology in our home market.

  50.  All the projects relating to water current energy conversion carried out abroad have also been small scale experiments or desk studies. Countries with the most technically credible activities completed so far are the Netherlands, Japan, Australia and Russia where small turbines have been successfully built and tested and demonstrated (these were all only a few kW in rated power). All of these, with the exception of the Japanese project, involved mounting turbines under floating rafts, which at present would be difficult to scale up to a level to feed power to the grid due to unresolved difficulties in mooring a large enough raft. The Japanese (a university research team rather than a commercial entity), installed a small turbine on the sea bed and it ran successfully for about nine months. A Canadian company has taken a concept tested extensively with Canadian government support during the 1980s and is pushing the idea strongly with a view to raising large sums of money, which involves building what they call a "tidal fence", a wall in the sea with turbines in it. For various technical reasons we do not believe this is a serious competitive threat (it looks unlikely to be cost-effective) other than in terms of possibly attracting finance away from work we believe to have better chances of commercial success.

  51.  We are quite certain that the extraction of energy from marine and tidal currents will soon be a viable method of energy generation. Potential competitors are beginning to see the possibilities too. We have various advantages which could soon be lost unless we can press ahead at a good pace with the necessary R&D programme. Britain has so far largely failed to gain a significant market share in any renewable energy technologies; here we have a new chance to develop an important new technology with high commercial potential providing it can get the support it needs soon.

February 2001

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