Swansea Bay tidal project advances

Advances on the plans for a 10 km-long tidal barrage generation scheme in the region of the Severn Estuary in the UK could see a swathe of new marine energy schemes developed around the UK and further afield.

Around 500 GWh could be generated annually by the 320 MW Severn Barrage scheme once developed, as seems increasingly likely.

In the latest advance to the proposals, negotiations have now begun on a Contract for Difference (CfD) a support scheme which provides an additional fee on top of commercial electricity market prices to reach a certain ‘strike’ price depending on the technology. The negotiations are set to establish whether a CfD for such a scheme represents value for consumers.

Still subject to a planning decision, the commercial negotiations follow the February appointment of General Electric and Andritz Hydro as preferred bidders to provide the electromechanical equipment for the £1 billion (US$1.6 billion) scheme.

The two companies are jointly bidding for the roughly £300 million contract to supply 16 bi-directional turbines and their generators with a capacity of more than 20 MW each.

Furthermore, three potential sites in the Swansea Bay City Region are already short-listed for a 100,000 square foot Turbine Assembly Plant that will initially employ 100 and ship one 7.35 m diameter runner a month. The facility is expected to scale operations by a factor of six by 2018, shipping at least one turbine a week by then. Meanwhile, February also saw InfraRed named as the final institutional equity investor in Tidal Lagoon Swansea Bay with an equity stake matching that of Prudential which acquired its stake in October, reportedly for £100 million ($160 million).

If granted the relevant permissions, construction is due to commence in Swansea Bay in Spring 2016 and Tidal Lagoon Ltd has revealed plans to develop a further five tidal lagoon projects in UK waters should its initial development prove successful.

A macroeconomic impacts study conducted by the Centre for Economics and Business Research and published in July last year found that a national fleet of six tidal lagoon power plants would contribute £27 billion ($40 billion) to UK GDP over the investment period 2015-2027 while the fleet would supply some 8% of the UK’s electricity demand.

If the study’s conclusions are accurate, and there’s no doubt that there is a considerable tidal resource available within the UK’s territorial waters, then the government should conclude that the development of Swansea Bay represents value for consumers. It will no doubt serve as an all-important proving ground for this very achievable technology.

Indeed, according to Bloomberg, the first demonstration project at Swansea is anticipated to produce power at a cost of some £168/MWh (US$248/MWh). However, Andy Field, a spokesman for Tidal Lagoon, has reportedly suggested that £90-95/MWh ($150/MWh) would be credible for a second, larger plant with a capacity of 2800 MW planned for Cardiff Bay, some 50 km away. At these projected costs the technology is competitive with new nuclear capacity.

Bloomberg quoted Field: “Once we’ve proven the concept and set up the supply chain, future facilities are just a replication of the first.”

Final consent approval for the Swansea Bay project is anticipated in June.

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