Pre-development work is well underway on the world’s first tidal lagoon, to be built in Swansea Bay on the south coast of Wales, the first of many around the world for this revolutionary new form of generating renewable energy.

The AU$2.4 billion project is expected to be completed within four years, when it will start generating a maximum of 320 megawatts, enough to power 155,000 homes – more than the annual domestic electricity use of the city of Swansea. The project was awarded a Development Consent Order on 9 June by the British government.

The company behind the project, Tidal Lagoon Power has just appointed a delivery director, Mike Unsworth, who has experience delivering much larger offshore wind renewable energy projects. He calls his appointment “a once-in-a-career opportunity to help deliver a new and potentially transformational option in the UK’s energy portfolio”.

Mark Shorrock, chief executive of Tidal Lagoon Swansea Bay Plc, described the project as groundbreaking and can hardly contain his excitement: “The UK and especially Wales has opened a new door to help answer the greatest challenge of our age in the run up to the Paris talks on a global climate change deal.”

Unlike wind and solar renewable energy projects, the lagoon will produce reliable, predictable energy for 14 hours of every day over 120 years (that’s about four or five times longer than non-hydro renewable energy generators). As a form of hydroelectric energy, it will be able to generate power from the incoming and outgoing tides, which are captured within the lagoon’s four mile long artificial walls – an 11.4sq km sea lake.

Within the lagoon the feature will also provide recreational facilities for watersports (sailing, open water swimming, triathlon and rowing), leisure and cycling and walking around the seawall. A Visitor Centre will cater for the estimated 70 to 100,000 visitors per year and become a major tourism draw, giving further benefit to the local economy.

Last week, the company submitted plans for the watersport centre, drawn up by Faulkner Browns, the architects behind the 2012 Olympics sailing centre in Weymouth and many other award-winning sports facilities. The plans include a lobster and oyster hatchery and a fully serviced aquaculture facility with a seawater circulation system. The greenhouse structure will harness solar power to grow the nutrient supply to the hatchery.

The masterplan for the lagoon itself won the President’s Award for its design company, LDA Design, at the 2014 Landscape Institute Awards.

Unlike the much larger but ill-fated tidal barrage for the Severn estuary, which was turned down two years ago and would have been much bigger yet cause problems for wildlife on the mud flats of the estuary, the Swansea project’s approach to public consultation has been highly commended. It has won even the support of environmentalists concerned about the effect on wildlife in the Bay.

Finance

The project is being financed privately, but is expected to receive support from the new Contracts for Difference, an auction system designed by the British government to support the forms of renewable energy that provide the best value for money. The first phase of negotiations on a potential Contract for Difference were announced in the UK Chancellor’s Budget in March 2015.

Later this year investment opportunities will be opened for the general public. Already, a £300 million (A$641.65 million) of investment has come from China. In June, China Harbour Engineering Company Ltd, one of the world’s largest specialist marine engineering contractors and investors, was named as the preferred bidder for a marine works package that will include the construction of the six mile lagoon wall.

These Chinese backers see great potential for the technology in Asia. The signed deal also includes a Memorandum of Understanding for the development of tidal lagoon power projects particularly at sites along China’s 18,000 kilometres of coastline. This means that the Swansea project is the first of many throughout the world. It is ideal in areas where there is sufficient tidal range. Swansea Bay benefits from a tidal range of up to 10.5 metre.

A tendering process has begun for three main operations and maintenance contract packages, worth £4 million (A$8.56 million) a year and a series of events to raise awareness of the business possibilities among Welsh construction and manufacturing businesses has just completed. It is hoped that much of the manufacturing work will happen in Wales and will provide a great boost to the economy.

Up to 1900 jobs will be created during the construction phase – 35 jobs in quarrying stone for the seawall and around 81 permanent jobs will be created in operations and maintenance and in the visitor facilities. Local residents are expected to benefit from reduced electricity bills.

Roger Evans, Chair of the Tidal Lagoon Industry Advisory Group believes that developing a supply chain that has the skills and capacity to service Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon is “critical to ensuring that Wales is best placed to take advantage of this emerging industry”. It is already working with global leaders like GE, Andritz, CHEC and Laing O’Rourke “who are now beginning the process of identifying local contractors and suppliers to be part of the journey with us,” he said.

Tidal Lagoon Power already plans to follow the Swansea Bay project with five small full-scale tidal lagoons around the UK. It estimates that the six projects altogether could contribute £27bn to UK GDP during construction and provide 8% of the UK’s electricity for the next 120 years.

A report by the Centre for Economics and Business Research found that the emergence of a global tidal lagoon industry could present an export industry valued at £70bn to the UK economy.

See More information: https://www.tidallagoonswanseabay.com/

David Thorpe is a UK based author and journalist specialising in clean energy and sustainable development. His website is   

www.davidthorpe.info