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UK to build the world's first tidal lagoon power plants

Matt Brian, @m4tt
03.02.15
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It's easy to forget that it's possible to generate electricity not by burning coal or splitting atoms, but using the power of the sea. One company has thought long and hard about the process and is set to change the way Britain generates its renewable energy. Under new plans, Tidal Lagoon Power hopes to build the world's first lagoon power plants, creating six giant structures -- four of which will be built in Wales, with two in England -- that will harness powerful coastal tides and generate as much as 8 percent of the UK's total power.

The company has already put its best foot forward, starting work on a £1 billion plant in Swansea that already has the backing of energy secretary Ed Davey. Even though it'll be one of the smallest installations, the lagoon will measure five miles across and stretch two miles out to sea, serving not only as significant power source but also as destination for locals. It'll work by isolating a large space of water, which drives a series of turbines set into the wall as the tidal levels rise and fall throughout the day.

The UK government is keen to back renewable energy projects, so the £30 billion investment needed to build the ambitious lagoons will be met by taxpayers. Wales will host three lagoons in Cardiff, Newport and Colwyn Bay (as well as the one in Swansea) and there'll be one in Bridgwater Bay, Somerset and another in West Cumbria.

The good thing about tidal power is that barring a lunar catastrophe, sea movements are completely predictable. Wind turbines can stall if it's a particularly calm day, while solar panels only achieve maximum output when it's clear and sunny. Marine experts have their reservations, including fears that fish could be sucked into turbines, but Tidal Lagoon Power believes the lagoons will ultimately benefit local ecosystems by serving as artificial reefs.

The company is currently having conversations with the government over how much it will charge for the electricity it generates. However, at £90-£95 per MWh for its plant in Cardiff, the price is on par with the £92.50 price for power from the planned Hinkley nuclear station. The lagoons could operate for up to 120 years, giving the government a sustainable source of clean energy that has little to no risks associated with it.

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