U.K. Company Makes Waves in Tidal Energy Development


By Maura Forrest

August 20, 2015

A British company has plans to build a new tidal energy fence that would harness power in shallower and slower-moving water than conventional technology allows.

U.K.-based Kepler Energy wants to install a kilometre-long fence in the Bristol Channel, which divides South Wales from the west of England. The project would cost about $293 million, and would produce 30 megawatts of power – enough to power about 30,000 U.K. homes. It could be operational by 2021.

The fence would essentially be a string of turbines, connected horizontally, that could sit in fairly shallow water. In contrast, traditional tidal power turbines have large blades that limit their use to water at least 30 metres deep.

“This turbine goes places other turbines cannot and generates electricity at an economical cost,” Peter Dixon, chairman of Kepler Energy, told Reuters. He believes the technology could eventually produce electricity more cheaply than offshore wind farms.

The company eventually hopes to extend the length of the fence, up to 10 kilometres. It argues that because the technology is designed for slower-moving water, the turbines’ blades will move slowly, posing less of a threat to marine wildlife.

The project’s developers also say the technology could be used elsewhere in the world. That could be good news for Canada, which is estimated to have more than 42 gigawatts of tidal energy potential. 

Much of Canada’s potential lies in hard-to-access regions around Nunavut. But British Columbia also has several possible tidal power sites, and Nova Scotia and New Brunswick are actively pursuing tidal energy development.

One of the world’s few operational tidal power plants is located near Annapolis Royal in Nova Scotia, and another tidal power project is underway in the Bay of Fundy, home to the world’s highest tides.

In July, Nova Scotia and British Columbia signed an agreement to develop tidal energy collaboratively on the Atlantic and Pacific coasts. The agreement calls for the two provinces to share research and technology related to tidal power.