Select Committee on Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Written Evidence

Memorandum 47

Submission from Professor Ian Fells


  The tides in the Severn Estuary have a rise and fall of over 10 metres, second only to the Bay of Fundy on the east coast of Canada. Harnessing the power in these tides has been a goal of energy engineers for almost a century (a Government study group was set up as early as 1925 to report on the potential of the Severn Barrage). A definitive report, commissioned by the Secretary of State for Energy, was published in 1989 and has since been followed up with a further appraisal by the Severn Tidal Power Group (STPG), which consists of a number of international engineering companies. The aim is to produce electricity predictably from a renewable source.

  The engineering, economics and environmental impact of a Severn Barrage have been exhaustively studied. In the past the scheme has been regretfully rejected on economic grounds, but that was when any new scheme had to compete with fossil fuel fired generation. Now that clean energy is at a premium and marine technologies such as wave power are being actively pursued the Severn Barrage emerges as a very attractive possibility. The economics are as good, if not better than wave power, tidal stream and offshore wind systems; the technology is well understood (a successful tidal barrage has been generating 240MW of power at La Rance, in Brittany, for over 40 years and continues to operate today), those cost would be about the same as for the Channel Tunnel and could be raised according to the banking community, provided there was strong and continuing support for the scheme (the same is true for nuclear power). The Barrage could provide 5% of UK electricity, more if the longer route from Minehead rather than Weston-super-Mare were adopted, it would provide over a thousand jobs in tourism, a fast rail or road link to Wales and do much to control periodic flooding, especially of the Somerset Levels.

  The UK is keen to show that it leads the way in combating Climate Change; unfortunately we have one of the worst records in Europe in terms of promoting renewable energy. Here is a scheme based on a fortunate geographical advantage which we can exploit, just as Austria and Norway exploit their hydroelectric potential. There will be environmental objections especially the bird lobby, but the wading birds can be accommodated by designing areas that dry out at low tide, and there is now considerable experience in dealing with silting problems.

  Here is a much-researched, renewable energy source, on an heroic scale that would place the UK in the forefront of clean energy production. It will be a shame if we continue to neglect it.


  1.  The Severn Barrage Project, General Report Energy Paper 57, HMSO 1989.

  2.  The Severn Barrage—definition study for a new appraisal of the project STPG 155363.pdf

July 2007

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