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FeaturesTime & Tide Wait for no Island

Time & Tide Wait for no Island

If I had a pound for every time I’ve heard or read ‘global warming’, I wouldn’t need to spend my terms at university living off ASDA own brand food. In fact, with the amount of times the government have attempted to cover it, and get people involved, I should now be an expert in the field of environmental issues. I do, however, know that as an island we have the ability to access a wide range of renewable energy sources. For instance, we live on an island that offers one of the largest tidal movements on earth. This should mean that Jersey is a prime location to harness tidal power as a clean, green, renewable energy source. To put the velocity into perspective, our tides rise and fall by an average of 40ft (12m) a day. That’s the height equivalent of one giraffe standing on another giraffe’s shoulders. Picture that if you will.

Back to tidal energy though. Ignore the giraffes.  In case you didn’t pay attention in your science lessons, tidal power is created by a tidal generator which converts the energy of tidal flows into electricity. Greater tidal variation and higher tidal current speeds can dramatically increase the potential of a site for tidal electricity generation. Tidal power is practically inexhaustible and classified as a renewable energy resource because the earth’s tides are ultimately due to gravitational interaction with the moon and the sun and earth’s rotation. So essentially, all we’d have to do is set up the equipment and let the sea do its thing.

The potential our island has for this kind of energy was uncovered during a detailed study carried out in 2010. The States spent £65,000 conducting the report, with the help of IT Power. The report included resource modelling, technology reviews, an environmental impact assessment scoping study, development of a commercialisation strategy for the realisation of tidal power in the area, and site survey work to verify flow data. Two people from the company took two weeks to carry out the study, and recognised good potential for offshore wind farming as well as tidal energy in Jersey. Yet six years later, we’re still buying our electricity from France. I know, I’m baffled too.

To cure my confusion, I spoke to Dr. Louise Magris, Director of Environmental Policy at the Environmental Department in Jersey. She told me that the study “Showed that we have reasonable tidal currents that could yield the energy equivalent to about half of the island’s annual electricity requirements.” However, this doesn’t mean that we have taken advantage of this fact.  She went on to say that “ To date, progress has been slower than anticipated and the technology has not yet progressed to arrays of commercial availability”

Since the initial report in 2010, there has been no further progress towards the island harnessing tidal energy. This is down to the tidal energy industry still being in the “enhanced research and development stage”. The fact of the matter is, Jersey would need a ‘farm’ of about 150 tidal turbines on the seabed, known as tidal stream technology, to generate enough power that could be used domestically or commercially. Right now, there is nowhere to buy 150 tidal turbines to plant into the ocean, because none of the prototypes have been deemed fit for commercial use.

This doesn’t mean that an efficient amount of tidal energy can only be made through tidal stream technology though.  La Rance Tidal Power Plant in France, just across the water from us, has been using tidal energy for years. It’s a Tidal Barrage, which is a dam-like structure used to capture the energy from masses of water moving in and out of a bay or river due to tidal forces. It has been operational since 1966, making it the world’s oldest and second biggest tidal power station. The plant has an annual generation capacity of 540GWh. Electricity is fed into the 225kV national transmission network serving the needs of approximately 130,000 households every year. Something like this wouldn’t be manageable here in Jersey, as we don’t have the capacity to build a dam of this proportion, but it shows that utilizing tidal energy isn’t limited to the kind of prototypes being tested now.

For Jersey to invest in anything on the market currently would cost millions, apparently. The states would be making a risky investment, purchasing a product that is still being developed that comes with no 100% guarantee that it will work and last long enough. Traditional energy such as coal and oil based fuel has a set cost, but if energy is being created with a prototype, it could cost up to three times more. Thankfully though, there are others who are investing in what is essentially the future of energy, who we can learn from.

“The States of Jersey works with the other Channel Islands, the UK and France in closely monitoring advancements in the tidal sector.” Dr. Magris said. “ Jersey is keen to monitor the progress of ongoing projects in the Alderney Race for example. We are keen to investigate the opportunities that early adoption of tidal technology could offer when the sector advances.”

This means that essentially, Jersey is now playing a waiting game, with places such as Alderney acting as their guinea pig. Alderney’s project, which plans to reach full scale development by 2020, has a potential annual energy output of up to 6 Terawatt hours, which equates to the annual demand of 1.8 million homes. So hopefully when their project becomes commercial enough for us to invest in, we can follow on and use the same thing.

Even though it is easy to see why Jersey is reluctant to invest in something that is not fully commercialised, it doesn’t mean that sitting on our hands waiting for tidal energy to play catch up will help our carbon emission.

The states published the ‘Pathway 2050: An energy plan for Jersey’ document on in 2014, which lays out their plans and policies to combat the island’s carbon footprint, both commercially and domestically. Predictions were made about how, if we continue as we are, our habits will affect our carbon emission. It showed a projected c.39% rise in energy demand by 2050 if nothing changes.

This is a situation where slow and steady does not win the race, because the longer we wait the more money we waste. A little bit of speed and urgency to utilise our resources efficiently is what is needed to better our carbon footprint, not a list of things for people to do which will be forgotten by the end of the week. Perhaps a faster paced approach is needed to save our planet; just a thought.

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