Time and tide wait for no man, so the saying goes. Sailors used to have to sail with the inevitable changing of the tides and were subject to the whims of the sea. Now, in Wales, humans will soon use the sea’s reliable indifference to us to generate energy.
Construction has begun on the Morlais tidal energy project on the small Holy Island, off the coast of Anglesey in Northwest Wales.
An enormous and unused resource
Tidal energy remains one of the most untapped and overlooked means of renewable energy. For countries with an abundance of tidal coastlines, like the United Kingdom, this presents an enormous opportunity.
The European Union’s regional funding program gave the Morlais project a grant of £31 million (almost $40 million). This will fund the construction of tidal energy turbines over 13 square miles of seabed. The new system will power more than 180,000 Welsh homes once completed and fully operational.
“We have strong tidal resources around Wales and they have huge potential,” said Gerallt Llewelyn Jones, a director of Morlais Energy. He also alluded to tidal energy being even more reliable than wind or solar.
There are a few different types of tidal turbines that use the passing water of the tides to turn rotor blades and generate energy. A horizontal axis turbine resembles a wind turbine with rotor blades. A vertical axis turbine has two-sided fans which spin on a vertical axis like a weathervane.
Tidal power could also turn into a revolutionary and huge industry. The west coast of Britain has one of the largest tidal areas in the world, and new tidal turbine installations could create thousands of new jobs.
Why now and not before?
Previous British tidal energy projects have been scrapped because some conservationist groups argued that the turbines in estuaries and lagoons could hurt wildlife, such as fish and birds. There was also very little research to support the energy output.
Former UK energy minister Charles Hendry, however, assessed and reviewed the tidal potential of Britain’s lagoons and gave an endorsement for a tidal energy revolution. “Tidal lagoons can be an important and exciting new industry,” he said. “We are blessed with some of the best resources in the world, which puts us in a unique position to be world leaders.” Construction for the Morlais tidal project will proceed in increments, though, to measure and limit the impact on marine and wildlife.
With any luck, the Morlais project will be the first in a changing of the tides for countries with a lot of coastlines and the need for renewable energy sources.