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Tidal power trials

Jun 9, 2007 - The Journal

Tidal power pioneers in the North-East yesterday set out their stall in the "green" battle with wind farms.

Inventors such as former Swan Hunter naval architect Graham Mackie and his Evopod are bidding for a slice of a 50m Government fund to develop electricity from the ebb and flow of the tide.

While battles have raged over the building of wind farms in the region, using tidal and wave power has lagged behind. But that changed yesterday when the only independent large-scale tidal testing facility in Europe went into operation.

The facility, opened by the North-East's New and Renewable Energy Centre (NaREC), based at Blyth, Northumberland, will test prototypes developed to harness the power of the tides - and try to turn them into a commercial reality. Story continues Continue story ADVERTISEMENT

In front of more than 70 industry experts, Mr Mackie's scale model - the real thing will be 25 metres long - was first into the water at the Tees Barrage in Stockton.

Tidal energy is widely regarded as one of the best sources of renewable power on offer in the UK for future generations.

Director of policy and research at independent charity Renewable Energy Foundation Dr John Constable said: "A new tidal testing centre is a very positive step.

"We are beginning to see sanity dawning in the world of renewable energy."

Mr Mackie, who lives in Tynemouth, said 3,000 of the full-scale machines would match the generating capacity of between three and five nuclear power stations - sufficient power for between two and a half million and four million homes.

Three square miles of sea space would take 300 Evopods and have the same capacity as a typical gas-fired power station.

The test facility was also greeted with enthusiasm by anti-wind farm campaigners in the North-East.

Northumberland farmer Andrew Joicey, a member of Save Our Unspoilt Landscape (Soul) group, said: "It's very pleasing to hear we are now getting to the stage of properly testing the tidal resource.

"Harnessing the power of the tides is going to be far more significant in contributing resources than the power of the wind."

The technical problems and cost of trials and operating in the sea has meant tidal technology has often been rejected in favour of the easier option of installing wind turbines.

But experts insist it is a far more reliable resource.

Tides can be predicted very accurately years in advance and the technology has very little visual impact.

Bosses at (NaREC) also insist having a testing facility in the region will enable local business to accelerate their growth ahead of competitors.

The region already has a large wave-testing operation in Blyth, Northumberland, but this new development will enable companies the opportunity to demonstrate and launch larger devices in open water.

While Government subsidies for developers of tidal technology has now increased, experts believe it will be about five years before a large-scale resource could be a reality.

During that time, scores of wind farms could be built across the North-East.

Experts say there is still a role for wind technology - although preferably as part of off-shore farms.

Dr Constable added: "Wind energy does have a role, but things have been done back to front. Tidal technology is overwhelmingly superior. While we are at least five years off utilising it large-scale for commercial means it is set to become highly valuable."

He added: "There are many places around the country which are looking to tidal power. The North-East has a tradition of excellence and innovation in engineering and there is every reason to believe that can now be turned towards tidal technology."


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Updated: 2003/07/28