Marine energy in UK

According to climate change minister Greg Barker who spoke to Sky News, the potential for marine energy in the UK was huge. He said it was estimated that there was as much as 27GW of electricity out there to be harnessed, which was the equivalent of eight nuclear power stations- a huge resource that was not being tapped.

Marine energy involves harnessing the energy from the sea including powerful waves and tidal currents to produce electricity.

According to the Carbon Trust’s analysis which was released in May last year, around 68,000 jobs could be created in the UK in the emerging sector.

Sky News, which says it was granted exclusive access to a new British wave power device currently under development of the coast of Dartmouth, reported that it worked basically like a dam, using the rise and fall of the sea water to pump water uphill from where it could be released to drive a turbine.

The prototype SeaRaser is the brainchild of British inventor Alvin Smith – a self-taught mechanical engineer, who learned everything he knows, while fixing cars in his dad’s garage.

According to Smith, the device could produce electricity more cheaply than existing fossil fuels, adding the secret of his invention was its simplicity.

He said it was really only a bicycle pump with a float on it. He added as the pump floated up and down it sucked sea water in and pumped sea water out, through the action of the waves alone.

SeaRaser makes use of the rise and fall of a large float to pressurise water, but does not generate the electricity in the hostile environment of the ocean, like other wave power technologies.

Smith said if any device was put in the sea it would get engulfed in storms, so it had to be totally sealed. He added water and electricity did not mix and sea water was particularly corrosive, so most other devices were very expensive to manufacture and maintain.

The technology effectively keeps salt water coming into contact with electricity-generating equipment as was being done routinely in Japan.

Technology to harness marine energy has mostly lagged behind developments in other clean power technologies, thanks to the technological challenges of engineering devices that can survive in the hostile marine environment. The only installation that has operated successfully so far is the Marine Current Turbines operation in Strangford Lough, Northern Ireland. It produces a significant amount of electricity for the National Grid.

According to Smith, the most important aspect of his device was that it enabled low-carbon energy to be stored in reservoirs on land and then released when needed, addressing the intermittent nature of much renewable energy.

He said an existing quarry on Portland would be an ideal site, he said, as also disused freshwater reservoirs.

A project in Alderney also envisages saltwater storage in reservoirs, but in this case the water would be pumped using electricity generated by underwater tidal generators.