UK: Bristol Channel Holds Great Renewable Energy Potential, Says Report

UK: Bristol Channel Holds Great Renewable Energy Potential, Says Report

A new report launched today suggests that a combination of innovative technologies could generate significant low carbon energy, and economic benefits from the Bristol Channel, without the need for a large scale barrage. The report has been issued by renewable energy experts Regen SW and consultancy firm Marine Energy Matters.

The discussion document, “Bristol Channel Energy: A Balanced Technology Approach”, proposes a new strategy to harness the massive energy potential of the Bristol Channel in a way which balances the imperative to generate low carbon energy with the protection of the environment and communities on both the Welsh and English sides of the channel.

The multi technology strategy outlined in the report would utilise new concepts such as tidal lagoons and tidal fences, deployed in conjunction with tidal stream technology, wave and wind power. The report authors highlight that the key advantage of the multi-technology approach is to enable the incremental roll-out of a series of large scale energy schemes as technologies are proven and their environmental impacts can be properly managed. Ultimately this lower risk strategy could provide up to 14 GW of low carbon energy capacity, more than the barrage proposals, and would enhance the UK’s position as a hotbed for new technology development.

The balanced technology approach, which has strong backing from industry groups including the Bristol Tidal Energy Forum, West of England Local Enterprise Partnership and South West Marine Energy Park, builds on the strength of the marine energy technology sector in the UK, and could provide a more sustainable route to economic growth and job creation.

 Johnny Gowdy, programme director at Regen SW, says “Any large scale energy scheme in the Bristol Channel will need to build consensus and support from communities on both Welsh and English sides of the channel, we hope this report will help move the debate forward and enable the industry to engage with government and stakeholders on the basis that projects might actually be built”.

 Johnny Gowdy continues “we need to get away from a divisive argument between proponents of renewable energy and the environment. Large scale, low carbon energy projects are absolutely essential to tackle the issue of climate change and ocean acidification and to move us away from destructive fossil fuel extraction industries. However, these must be designed to protect valuable ecosystems and biodiversity which are equally important for our sustainable future.”

The new approach has also been welcomed by environmental groups including Friends of the Earth and the RSPB.

 Mike Birkin, south west campaigner for Friends of the Earth says – “We very much welcome this approach. We have a huge potential clean energy resource around the Bristol Channel coast and it’s essential we find ways to harness it to tackle the problem of climate change. Our recent report from Plymouth University showed that this can be done in ways that don’t just minimise the harm to nature, they can bring about positive benefits. We’d like to see businesses and environmental organisations working together to secure both clean energy and a thriving environment for the Severn and the Bristol Channel”

Mark Robins, senior policy officer for RSPB in the south west said; “The RSPB welcomes this discussion document and we believe its publication marks a good starting point for a more conscious strategy for building up renewable energy outputs that build in the high nature value of the Bristol Channel and Severn estuary.”

As well as helping to address environmental concerns the Balanced Technology approach also questions whether a big barrage option is the best way to generate sustainable jobs and economic growth. While the barrage would certainly create jobs during the construction phase previous analysis commissioned by DECC suggests that the new jobs created would largely be offset by the job losses due to the impact on Bristol Port and other marine users, including the manufacturing and distribution companies which depend on the port to support global trade.

Having been rejected as a strategic option by the government as recently as 2010, the question of whether to support a large scale barrage in the Bristol Channel will once again be reviewed by the Energy and Climate Change Parliamentary Select Committee in the new year. The report authors hope that the renewed focus on the Bristol Channel as an energy resource will lead to a wider review to look at all potential technologies.


Press release, November 27, 2012; Image: tidalenergy