Portugal and England make big moves on renewable energy
Tidal power generated from more than 200 turbines in a 10-mile long barrage across the Severn estuary could provide nearly 5% of Britain’s electricity for 120 years with minimal climate change emissions and should be investigated urgently, government advisers said yesterday.
But what would be Britain’s largest power project and one of the most ambitious civil engineering challenges in the world would significantly affect the visual and marine environment for up to 30 miles around it and have mixed long-term economic and ecological impacts, said the Sustainable Development Commission.
It would mean the loss of 11,000 hectares of inter-tidal and other protected land, could limit the expansion of shipping in the estuary and would affect miles of beaches as well as the Severn bore. But it could also provide a much needed river crossing and be a fillip to tourism and the economies of Wales and south-west England, it said.
Portugal is poised to open what will be the world’s first commercial wavefarm, and while the coastline’s formidable surf will be a source of electricity, the engineers need a decent “weather window” to be able to get their machinery out to sea.
The Pelamis machines, named after the Latin for sea snake and developed by a Scottish company that leads the world in one of the newest renewable energy fields, are a series of red tubes, each about the size of a small commuter train, linked together, and pointed in the direction of the waves. The waves travel down the tubes, causing them to bob up and down, and a hydraulic system harnesses this movement to generate electricity.
The three “sea snakes” will soon be towed out to a spot some three miles from the coast of northern Portugal at Agucadoura, from where the electricity they produce will be pumped into the national grid.
… the hi-tech venture has not been without its problems. The latest date for inauguration of the wavefarm was to be Wednesday, but a combination of bad weather, bad luck and the pitfalls of developing any new technology has meant the machines are still on dry land, awaiting the next calm spell to be taken out to sea.
England’s plan has its own, truly interesting, quirk:
“It is imperative that a project of this national importance should be publicly-led and publicly-owned, but we do not rule out private enterprise partners,” said Jonathon Porritt, chair of the commission.
The SDC emphasised that the lower rate of interest available to government-led projects would provide the only realistic way of funding an “immense” compensatory package for the environment lost as well as providing electricity at a competitive price.
That ought to be interesting, indeed – fans of turbines, we are, here, no fans at all of PFI.
Two very impressive projects, proving Europe as quite the reliable path-finder for the rest of us. From the Guardian’s article on the wave farms:
EU current account Top generators
This year the EU set a target of increasing the share of electricity produced by renewables from 6.5% to 20% by 2020. European commission figures show that only 2% of Britain’s energy use came from renewables in 2004. Germany has 200 times as much installed solar power and 10 times as much wind power as Britain.
Wind power set records in 2006, the European Wind Energy Association reported, as 7,588 MW of capacity was installed, a 23% rise on 2005. Germany, the world’s wind-power leader, had 20,000MW of installed capacity; Spain was second. The UK has 40% of Europe’s wind resource but is only seventh in the world in installed capacity.
Marine power One of the world’s largest tidal projects was recently unveiled off Orkney. A wave hub off the coast of Cornwall this month gained planning approval and could generate electricity for 14,000 homes.
Solar In March the first commercial concentrating solar power plant in Europe was inaugurated in Seville. When completed in 2013 it will produce enough energy for 180,000 homes. According to industry estimates only 20,000 homes in the UK have solar panels.
Biomass The EU meets about 4% of its total energy needs with biomass. Its share the energy mix varies from 1.3% in the UK to 29.8% in Latvia.
Ultimately, I don’t see that Europe’s supplies of oil and gas are any more – or less – reliable than those of, say, the US, but it’s nice to see some intelligent responses to it. I’d like to see, in the US, some form of applied/experimental investment in similar enterprises around existing energy infrastructure. Wind and tidal energy, for example, is probably best-captured in areas where drilling and refineries (on land or off-shore) already exist. What better way for Big Oil to secure itself than to take advantge of such an expanding, and appreciating, market?
I’m not saying I think tens of billions in quarterly profits for Big Oil are my preference, but I don’t see anyone else stepping forth.