Analysis: Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon

What went wrong for the tidal lagoon?

After months of anticipation the Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon proposal was rejected by the UK government. Now that the dust has settled we take a look at what the supposed stumbling blocks were for this technology / project.

After a considerable amount of time spent on environmental consenting, it appeared the momentum was with the Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon project. Not only had consent been agreed in principle, but investigative reports (the Hendry Review for example) came out in support of the project. Therefore the rejection was a bit of a surprise, although some sensed it was coming due to the long delay.

The supporting documentation from BEIS sets out some very simplistic arguments for the costs of the project, not mentioning "Levelised Cost of Energy" once! They chose to ignore, operational, maintenance and decommissioning costs entirely and never took the time to explain why this was justifiable. Similarly, it focused on the figures for the first of a kind project; was the first wind turbine the most cost efficient thing to do? Probably not, but technologies need the opportunity to grow and improve.

Comparison with Hinkley C was drawn yet again, but by ignoring the key lifetime costs (not to mention the question of what you have to do with nuclear waste) the statistics shown were skewed in favour of that (currently over-budget) project.

The rebuttal from Tidal Lagoon Power was firm, but this audit contained many points that are hard to argue with. Points that the BEIS review seemed to be trying to avoid.

Tidal Barrage La Rance

Image source: energybc

Tidal Lagoon

Image source: Tidal Lagoon Power

This decision not only publicly portrays tidal lagoons (and barrages) in a bad light but the whole tidal industry (and potentially the marine energy industry) will inevitably be tarred with the same brush. One has to recall recent studies supporting tidal stream and wave energy generation schemes as viable avenues for the future of energy production.

Present governmental support appears to solely favour offshore wind (and natural gas [especially in light of recent fracking decisions], let's not get started on fossil fuels!), but putting all your eggs in one basket surely doesn't make any sense. Consider transportation as an example, there are buses, trams, cars, bicycles, motorbikes, aeroplanes, helicopters, hovercraft and more, all for getting you from A to B; why is there so much choice (and varying cost) in transport that is seemingly not permissible in energy production?

Don't take this the wrong way, we are big fans of offshore wind (there's a pun in there somewhere), but a mix of renewables is key to a stable energy generation future. We don't believe a tidal lagoon is a bad thing; rejection of the project in light of the evidence available to us, seems harsh. Far be it for us to suggest that there are other political factors at play... There may be plans to resurrect or continue the project in a slightly different form, let's see what happens.

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