There will come a storm. There will come a flood. So warns climate scientist James Hansen. Coastal cities, if not entire regions, risk elimination.
An increasingly hostile climate is preparing its bite and all eyes are on the coast.
195 countries may have signed up to action in Paris - “a major leap for mankind”, said French President François Hollande – but the countries surely best placed to lead the response are the ones with the domestic industrial capacity to develop new solutions.
The solutions we develop must be sustainable for the long term. The countries based on mature market economies will be best able to attract the capital and expertise, both creative and technical, to envision and deploy these solutions.
All of which establishes opportunity for the UK. Bags of it. None more so than in the power sector.
And yet we are more concerned, understandably, about our ability to simply keep the lights on.
We are now dependent on imports (even coal), and we have allowed our nuclear energy capability to erode. Our energy is more expensive, and it isn’t ours. We are not tapping into the potential of our own market economy.
Moreover we face a growing shortfall in our power requirements. We are closing plant and not replacing capacity at sufficient scale. We are migrating fossil fuel transportation and domestic heating towards electric solutions - meaning our power requirement will be increasing, not decreasing.
Some have proposed the solution of interconnectors. Why build power stations when we can import power for less?
The short answer is: a nation does not accumulate wealth or knowledge by outsourcing core industries. Moreover, while undoubtedly useful within the mix, we cannot import power at the scale required and we cannot rely on imported power to be long-term secure.
Nor will imported power help us conceive of and deploy domestic power solutions that can be sold on to other countries with similar resources and similar challenges.
When national strategy and market incentives truly align, wealth is created, as are jobs and capabilities, as are international opportunities.
This is why the strategy of harnessing the UK’s vast tidal range resource is so relevant. Nature has bequeathed us an advantage and all the while it lays dormant, so too do the wealth, jobs, capabilities and international opportunities.
Atlantic tides are lifted into our estuaries twice a day with the reliability of an atomic clock. For 100 years we have pondered ways of harnessing this “lift” and turning it into hydropower. Today, through a novel combination of existing and proven technologies – plus a modern energy system better suited to accommodating new sources of power - we can now do this.
Tidal Lagoon Power has secured investment and planning permission to build a pathfinder tidal lagoon project, a scalable blueprint, at Swansea Bay. You’ll find it in the Conservative Party 2015 General Election manifesto and the National Infrastructure Delivery Plan.
The Government has in response commissioned an independent review into the national opportunity of developing tidal lagoon infrastructure at home and then exporting the technology and expertise to the world.
We have formed a coalition of world class engineering and technical partners. British-made turbines and generators will capture, hold and harness tidal movements in large inshore impoundments. Incoming and outgoing tides will be converted into power that can be flexibly managed in real time by National Grid.
The scale is enormous. A national fleet of six tidal lagoons, including the pathfinder at Swansea Bay, could supply 30% of British households. The power output is 100% predictable, and the infrastructure is set in place for 120 years, double the lifespan of any other power station. Lagoons in different estuaries with different tidal timetables will stretch tidal power generation around the clock and start to smooth out the delivery curve.
Because the scale is enormous, this power will be cheap. In fact, we expect our second project between Cardiff and Newport to require a lower level of public financial support than any other new power station in the UK. All new power stations require some level of public support due to market failure. And we need new power stations.
The necessary financial support for the pathfinder at Swansea Bay – a global first-of-kind - is higher, but can be delivered at the same level of intensity as Hinkley Point C and below that of many other low carbon options. As a small project, its impact on bills is also small, currently registering on our spreadsheets as just 24 pence per household per year on average. It may well cost more to post your annual statement to you.
That money buys more than power, industry, jobs and exports. The pathfinder at Swansea Bay will showcase the range of additional benefits unique to lagoon infrastructure: it will act as a tourist attraction and leisure facility; it will host mariculture farming and numerous conservation initiatives; it will be home to arts and education facilities; and it will help the region adapt to climate change by protecting against coastal storms and sea level rises.
So as the UK develops its strategic response to climate change, in a world where scores of other nations are now committed to doing the very same thing, we’d do well to scan the coastline of our island-nation and see not threat but opportunity.
Andy Field is Head of Communications at Tidal Lagoon Power
The views expressed in this article are those of the author, not necessarily those of Bright Blue.