Rife with political tension exasperated by rows overseas and an uneasy annulment from continental allies, the UK is desperate to prove its independent global prowess and emerge with a beaming reputation, ready to concrete itself as a single power alongside its former bedfellows. But in its eagerness to dominate an industry, any industry, the about-to-be-single nation has resigned itself with desperate bids to become the world leader in anything, from finance, digital, trade, defence, or the environment. Reaching promises of revolutionary trade deals, uncompromisable defence and an award-winning health care service has economists wondering if they’ve stumbled upon the recipe for turning water into wine. Early bids from the Prime Minister offered the UK’s promise for a new green economy, pledged to be the most productive in the world. Subsides for green initiatives and support for the burgeoning industry of renewables emerged from a long list of inspiring promises that gave hope for the nations emancipated future.
As a small island on the far east of the Atlantic, eager to make a name for itself away from its continental associates, the UK is in a unique position as an economic power with undisturbed access to the most reliable carbon neutral energy. Harnessing tidal power from the almost 20’000 miles of UK coastline would utilise its geographical position in ways many other nations do not have such access to. Unrestricted by the limited energy sources that requires the wind to blow or the sun to be up, the predictable ebb and flow of the ocean ensures power generation throughout the day, every day. With the second largest tidal range in the world, the UK is perfectly primed to harness such energy which could provide up to 20% of the nations energy needs, and segment itself as a global leader in renewable technology.
Eager to utilise this untapped energy source, the Tidal Lagoon Project (TLP) were primed to offer such power capture through a tidal lagoon in Swansea bay. The operation would have a sea wall built around the bay that would flow sea water in and out of the bay four times a day, turning energy producing turbines with each tidal high and low. Far from an eyesore, the project was set to become a community hub, the sea wall forming a 6 mile footpath across the water, complete with man-made rock pools and a visitors centre. TLPs vision saw a triathlon, with runners and cyclists transversing the sea wall, while swimmers and sailing boats travelled alongside it. The first of its kind, the tidal lagoon project was set to make the UK a global first in harnessing the power of the 71% of the planet that is made up of water. The project would see the UK elevated as pioneers of the rapidly expanding renewables industry, predicted to provide 89% of energy by 2050. Amidst this changing energy economy, investing in the tidal lagoon would give the UK a unique opportunity to pit itself as the front runner of this new economy, asserting itself as a nation who thrived from its newfound independence.
It’s a shame then, that the proposal was overwhelmingly quashed this week in parliament by both parties. Quietly thrown out amidst a landslide win for the expansion of Heathrow, the government made the business as usual decision to encourage polluting industries above the forward thinking future of renewables. At a time when the UK could have truly become a trend-setting pioneer for the future, the government made their preference clear by supporting carbon intensive projects which are more profitable for them and their corporate interests.
Critics against the scheme cited the impact on marine life, that aquatic animals would become confused by the streams of water from the outlets and would attempt to swim upstream. However, it doesn’t seem that fish were the governments concern when they ousted the project. Not ‘value for money’ announced Greg Clark Business and Energy Secretary on his opening statement on the TLP on Monday. Despite being set to provide Wales over 10% of it’s yearly energy usage, providing enough yearly energy for 155’000 homes and produce 236’000 tonnes of carbon savings every year. It would have grown a community, provided cheaper energy for the area, provided over 2000 new jobs, and reliably produced 530 gigawatt hours every year for 120 years, yet this wasn’t enough for the government.
The sticking point was the cost of the lagoon and the energy produced. As the first of its kind, Swansea’s Tidal Lagoon would act as a flagship for the five others planned around the western coastline. All six lagoons would produce the same amount of energy, cleanly and without significant human risk, as the proposed and accepted nuclear plant Hinkley C, up to 8% of the UKs electricity demand. Estimates put the cost of the lagoons at £50 billion, with Hinkley currently standing at £20 billion, which became the crucial costing dilemma the government couldn’t bypass. However, the life expectancy of these energy producers were not costed; set to produce energy for the whole of its serviceable life, the tidal lagoons last 120 years, with the nuclear power plant predicted for just 60 years. Beyond the cost of investment, the strike price; the average price paid per megawatt hour was dropped to the same £92.50/MWh that EDF Energy proposed for Hinkley. The price was right for the nuclear plant, not so for the tidal lagoon. The issue for the government may well have been the length of time that the contract would last. Hinkley’s contract is for 35 years, while the TLP would run a contract for 90. Understandably loath to tie itself down to a scheme for almost a century, during which time vastly more effective technologies in the renewable field could unfold. But with a 20’000 mile coastline and the strongest tides this side of x, the UK has the opportunity to develop tidal energy technology across the nation before the contract is up.
All facts considered, it seems that the government would rather continue along the status quo, shying from opportunity and environmental responsibility. What could have given the UK the position of environmental leader alone, instead will leave the advantage to more forward thinking nations. With China primed to invest £292 billion into the renewable energy sector by 2020, the vast Asian nation is set to beat the UK to its goal. With a fierce marketing push on the amount of money promised to the health service, 2% less than what is required. Bold claims to be the global leader in defence, despite cutting funding. And piecemeal environmental gestures that are meant to inspire confidence. The UKs identity crisis is pitting the nation as more likely to become a global leader in procrastination and bad decisions, that could find us at the bottom of a long list of nations who reached it first.