Rising tides require an influx of new cash
Tidal power could be a game-changer for a greener and more sustainable economy as the EU moves towards a target of 40% renewables in its overall energy mix by 2030.
It could provide 100 GW of capacity by 2050, equivalent to 10% of Europe’s electricity consumption today.
European grants – including Horizon 2020 grants – have helped advance tidal energy research, and now the technology has paid off.
The next step is to expand the prototype platforms so that tidal power can become commercially viable and enter the power grid in a meaningful way.
There is only one problem with this plan: the cost.
Tidal power is the new kid on the renewable energy market. All types of power generation require significant financial support, but tidal power companies face problems when they seek support to grow.
Traditional lenders, like banks, are either unwilling to invest or offer exorbitant interest rates on their loans, making commercial acceptance foolish for tidal power companies. No bank seems to want to be the first to give the green light to tidal power, only to see scaling efforts fail.
âThis is really about the promise that this industry will take off and mature,â said Jan Cornellie, project manager for the Clean energy for EU islands secretariat.
âAt the moment, I think that’s also why the banks are sitting on the fence – to see if that’s really going to happen.â
To take off, tidal companies need national governments to put in place income support programs, guaranteed prices, and decent bank lending rates.
According to RÃ©mi Gruet of Ocean energy Europe, “Nationally, we really need guaranteed prices to be put on the table. This is how we have developed wind and solar and there is no other way to turn the tide. You can’t just ask new technology to go and compete with old technology, especially when all other energy sectors are subsidized.
It comes at a time when rising energy prices are making headlines across Europe. Excessive dependence on wind power and gas has led to sharp price increases. This is something that could be mitigated if tidal power was on the table, says Gruet.
âHaving additional flexible energy (ocean energy) on the grid will mitigate peaks and troughs in production and thus make it easier to match demand. In times of high energy prices, this means that ocean energy will reduce overall electricity costs because you have to resort to expensive and polluting âpeaksâ much less often (facilities that you only use when you have a peak in consumption – mostly gas right now, unless the country has access to hydroelectric dams). “
The big advantage of tidal power over other renewable energy sources is that it is completely predictable. Wind and solar power are highly dependent on the weather – when the wind stops blowing or the sun shifts behind a cloud, no energy is produced.
But tidal power relies on the moon’s gravitational pull to earth, something that shouldn’t change anytime soon.
This is partly the reason why it is so attractive to innovators like Orbital marine power. They designed a unique type of floating platform which consists of a cylindrical tube with the turbines on two legs that retract underwater. The advantage of retractable legs is that they can be hydraulically lifted to the sea surface, making repairs much easier, thus reducing costs.
âFor a competing technology that has turbines on the seabed, they’re going to need a heavy vessel to come down to pick up the turbines if they were to be repaired. It could cost up to Â£ 100,000. [â¬117,000] per day, âsays James Murray, program director at Orbital.
“For our ships repairs can cost up to Â£ 5,000 a day. That’s a much lower risk, because everything is so much more accessible, and those retractable legs are a big part of it.”
Nova Innovation, which operates in Scotland and France, is another innovative company that is reducing tidal energy costs through new innovations. The Nova turbine, for example, does not require a gearbox.
“Fewer moving parts improve [the turbine’s] reliability and extend the period between maintenance intervals from one year to two years, further reducing the cost of energy. The direct drive turbine is more efficient and reliable, âsays John Meagher, director of business innovation at Nova Innovation. âThe M100-D turbine reduced tidal energy costs by 30%.
This reduction in costs should make the technology more attractive to financial institutions like banks, but so far this has not been the case. While the costs of scaling tidal power projects aren’t particularly high compared to other power projects, banks still seem to be concerned about tidal power.
âIt’s going to be 100 million euros, but for a bank 100 million euros for an energy project, it’s not that much. To give you an idea, if you want to build a wind farm today, it’s going to cost you between a million and a billion. , said Gruet.
“The problem really isn’t the size of the project. It’s that the attached technology is technology that the banks don’t know about.”