UK tidal power potential underestimated
Could provide 20% of UK demand
The UK is underestimating the amount of electricity that could be generated from tidal sources, new research from The Royal Society says.
The analysis says that estuary barrages and tidal streams could provide more than 20% of the nation's demand for electricity.
Despite high costs, experts say tidal power is more reliable than wind.
Essentially, engineers try to tap tides in two ways: one involves building barrages across tidal estuaries that use the ebb and flow of the waters to turn turbines - a major project of this type had been proposed for the River Severn.
The other method involves planting turbines underwater in fast flowing tidal streams in areas such as in coastal waters around Cornwall and Scotland.
"From tidal barrages you can reasonably expect you can get 15% of UK electricity needs, that's a very solid number," co-author Dr Nicholas Yates from the National Oceanography Centre told BBC News.
"On top of that there is a 5% tidal stream figure, and with future technological development that is likely to be an underestimate in my view," he said.
Despite his faith in the idea of barrages, Dr Yates says he is against building one across the Severn.
"I think it's unfortunate that attention for tidal range has tended to focus on the Severn, it's the wrong place to start, it's too big," he said.
"Start small, it's what the Danes did with wind - start small, learn quick and build up."
A company called MeyGen is planning to deploy tidal stream technology in the Pentland Firth that will initially generate up to 40MW of electricity, enough to power about 38,000 home. The SeaGen project in Northern Ireland is the largest grid connected tidal turbine in the world.
While the report paints a positive future for tidal power, a critical element is money.
In the past month, the EU has announced funding in the region of £30m for two UK tidal projects.
Investors in tidal technology are currently rewarded with a payment of £40 per megawatt hour for energy generated from renewables, but this scheme will end in 2017.