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Offshore opportunities

Renewable energy has driven geotechnical growth and tidal developments look set to build on the momentum created by wind farms in the offshore market. 

The UK has positioned itself as a leader in offshore wind with as much capacity already installed as the rest of the world combined. Could the award of the Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon contract to Laing O’Rourke signal the start of a new growth phase for offshore geotechnics?

Offshore engineering

An artist’s impression of the Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon, which is to be built by Laing O’Rourke

According to Crown Estates marine infrastructure portfolio manager David Tudor, the answer is quite likely to be a yes but there are some questions that still need to be answered. “Tidal range energy projects involve harnessing the power of the rise and fall of the tide,” he says. “Given that the tidal cycle is driven by the interaction between the earth, moon and sun, tidal range schemes have the potential to offer a predictable and reliable energy supply.

“Although there are no tidal range projects in the UK at present, this type of energy generation is not entirely new. There are two types of tidal range power projects: barrages and lagoons. There are several tidal barrage-type schemes in existence worldwide, the most notable of which is at La Rance in Brittany, north-western France. Tidal barrages are constructed across the mouth of an estuary, creating a basin which uses the difference in height of water upstream and downstream of a wall to power hydroelectric turbines.

“However, more recent proposed projects have centred on tidal lagoons, structures which utilise the same turbine technology but do not span an entire estuary. Given the potential size and scale of creating a new lagoon, which could be several miles out to sea, they could even be aligned with innovative place-making initiatives which bring multiple benefits beyond energy capture, such as recreation, coastal protection and transport.

“The opportunity for tidal range energy schemes in the UK is potentially significant, given our world class natural resources and the possibility of contributing to a low carbon energy mix”

David Tudor, Crown Estates marine infrastructure portfolio manager

“Large-scale offshore renewable energy projects must go through the major infrastructure planning process and they must also secure rights from The Crown Estate as manager of the seabed. As such, we are currently running a leasing process to potentially offer seabed rights for the development of the first UK tidal range projects. We launched this process last year following engagement with industry that demonstrated market appetite and it is intended to conclude later in 2015.

“The Crown Estate takes an active approach to managing the seabed, including working with industry and stakeholders to explore and unlock the UK’s tidal range potential over the long term. While the current leasing round will enable those developers with welldeveloped proposals to demonstrate the potential of this renewable energy technology, it is clear that there is a wider interest in possible future development opportunities that may lead to the creation of a UK tidal range industry.”

Crown Estates is currently engaged in several initiatives to enhance its knowledge and understanding of the sector’s potential. Tudor explains the areas that Crown Estates is looking at: “Firstly, we are continuing to work closely with the Department of Energy and Climate Change, the Welsh Government and other key stakeholders to understand the appetite for future tidal range schemes.

“Secondly, we recognise that collaboration will be central to helping unlock this renewable technology. We will continue to engage closely with industry and wider stakeholders to maintain an open dialogue on the potential for this industry to grow. Finally, we need to make sure that in our role as seabed manager we continue to take an informed approach to future development activities for this emerging industry.”

“The opportunity for tidal range energy schemes in the UK is potentially significant, given our world class natural resources and the possibility of contributing to a low carbon energy mix. In exploring that opportunity a number of critical issues have to be considered as, unlike some other forms of energy generation, there are only a finite number of locations that may be potentially suitable. Whether these locations are taken forward for such large-scale schemes will have to be considered alongside market and government appetite, technological progress and viability.”

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