Monthly Archives: September 2013

Tidal Power

MeyGen tidal turbine

MeyGen tidal turbine

On 24th August I wrote a blog which in part enthused about the excellent Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon proposal. This month the news is that MeyGen have obtained planning permission for an impressive tidal stream system, to be built in the Pentland Firth between the Orkney Islands and the Scottish mainland. Initially a 9MW demonstration project will be built, scaling up to 86MW by 2020: a very useful amount of electricity, but much less than the 240MW proposed for the Swansea project.

These two projects demonstrate two of the principle technologies for harvesting predictable, reliable tidal energy. Each project is designed to suit a different local situation. Swansea Bay has a massive tidal range in a sheltered bay with little tidal current: perfect for building a tidal lagoon, whereas Pentland Firth has less tidal range but enormously powerful tidal currents flowing back and forth between the Atlantic and North Seas, squeezed between the Orkneys and Scottish mainland: perfect for tidal stream technologies. These both look to my mind to be projects worth supporting.

In April 2010 I wrote a blog mentioning the European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC), which hosts a greater concentration of grid connected wave and tidal test facilities than anywhere else in the world. This facility has continued to expand over the last three years and is helping lay the foundations of a most useful future industry. The MeyGen tidal stream project in the Pentland Firth and the Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon project represent the first two large scale commercial deployments of tidal energy in the UK. Most exciting: I’ll keep an eye out for future developments!

BBC on Pentland Firth project



Photovoltaic Revolution

PlanetSolar MS Turanor

As I mentioned last week, solar power is really starting to take off. Tony Seba predicts coal, gas, nuclear and even oil will be obsolete by 2030. This may be too optimistic a timescale, but revolutionary changes are certainly unfolding in interesting and exciting ways. In Germany 1.3 million households are feeding rooftop solar electricity into the grid, so changing the way the grid operates and fragmenting the dominance of the old big power companies. Solar modules are being applied into a range of other technologies.

Solar Impulse flew across USA this summer, flying day and night, using only photovoltaic solar power and charging batteries as it flew in the day to provide energy for the night. They are planning the first round the world solar powered flight for 2015. In 2012 PlanetSolar’s MS Turanor became the first purely solar powered ship to circumnavigate the world. Meanwhile students from the Dutch university of Eindhoven have built a solar powered family sized car that is designed for use on the Dutch roads. These three are examples of pure solar technologies, but perhaps of more significance are technologies that utilize solar as one part of their power. The Nichioh Maru is a huge new Japanese car carrier fitted with solar panels to reduce diesel use. It may not be long before we see solar panels fitted to lots of trucks and ships to reduce their diesel consumption.

Clearly the falling price of solar panels is having an impact in many parts of the economy. If humanity can combine these improvements in renewable energy technology with improved energy efficiency throughout our economies, and add a good bit of cultural and political change, changes to farming practices and a few other things…then a better future for humanity looks all the more achievable…and just perhaps coal, gas, oil and nuclear may all be obsolete by 2030!

Tony Seba

Solar plane

Solar ships

Solar car

Fracking in Herefordshire & Alternatives

Brockhampton Church: Fracking near here!?

Little did I realise when I wrote my previous blog on ‘fracking and values’ that within a couple of days of posting it the Hereford Times would carry the story that fracking may come to us in Herefordshire. Fracking is bad technology wherever it is. The Herefordshire villages of Fownhope, Eastnor and Much Marcle are all beautiful places, with rich agricultural land, some tourism and much to lose as a result of these destructive proposals. The work so far is only exploratory, no planning permission has yet been applied for, but the local community are already getting organised in opposition. Meanwhile the UK government is also pushing ahead with Hinkley C nuclear power station at tremendous cost to the UK taxpayer; this, at a time when the full scale of the nuclear leak at Fukushima is only now becoming apparent. Both nuclear and fracking are obsolete, expensive and polluting technologies.

Solar power by contrast is undergoing a long term and continuing fall both in cost and in the environmental footprint associated with many of the individual technologies such as concentrating thermal, concentrating photovoltaic and ordinary photovoltaic panels. The Californian energy and entrepreneurial expert Tony Seba shows how unit costs of pv have fallen 1000 fold relative to nuclear over the last 40 years, and forecasts it won’t be long before they have fallen 10,000 times. Of course solar will not meet all UK energy needs, although it will for many currently off grid regions of India, Africa and Latin America. The UK could follow the lead set by Germany, Denmark, Sweden and Uruguay and many other countries and start a process to move toward 100% renewables. We have some of the best wind resource in the world, excellent tidal and wave energy potential, vast potential for renewable gases and liquid fuels generated via algal bioreactors, anaerobic digesters and a basket of other emerging renewable technologies. Perhaps the greatest opportunity is through greater levels of energy efficiency in terms of how we build, travel, farm and live. We can live better, pollute less, have more fun and build a fairer world by transforming our relationship to energy, both our personal energy and the energy we use in our lives.

I’m about to start a course of evening classes in Leominster where we’ll be exploring all this from a local, Leominster perspective. The class is called ‘Leominster: Radical Possibilities for a Sustainable Future’, perhaps it should be a ‘Leominster: Radical Possibilities for a Better Future’, but they are in the end one and the same thing.

My report ‘Localising Herefordshire’s Energy Economy’ is available as a free download on this blog site under writings, and there is more about my upcoming Leominster evening classes on the talks and classes page of this website.

Tony Seba on solar to nuclear costs


Hereford Times fracking