“Half of Europe’s tidal energy [is] around UK shores. The seas could help us reach a huge chunk of our 2020 energy targets.” Dr Jennifer Hoxton, University Highlands and Islands - NERC Planet Earth, Summer 2017.
Paul Hamlyn Foundation awarded Iridescent Ideas CIC a small grant in 2017 to explore the concept of community-owned tidal power in Plymouth. This blog explores our findings and ideas to help the future development of projects like this.
There has been considerable social enterprise and community-led development in the wind and solar renewable energy sectors, however, within the marine renewable energy field there has been very little progress. Yet it is estimated that marine renewable energy could provide:
We explored the feasibility of developing community-owned tidal power in Plymouth. Based on the data we have available into tidal flow and costs; current technology is not suitable for the locations in Plymouth we identified. Our study engaged a range of partners including University of Plymouth, Plymouth Marine Laboratory, local sailing organizations, tech businesses and others. We met and worked with:
We have learned a lot from developing the project. The detailed findings are available on a website we created about the project. We have also set up Tide Plymouth – a locally owned social enterprise – to explore future opportunities around tidal power.
We decided to write this blog about some of the policy issues we faced and also things we wished we’d known when we started! Much time could be saved for future projects if some of the policy barriers could be addressed.
Availability of reliable tidal flow data
A tidal power project needs appropriate tidal flow to work effectively. Finding accurate data about tidal flows proved problematic. We had to commission specialist research into this area and, even then, the researchers found data difficult to find.
There are a few tax incentives for developing renewable projects. However, a significant barrier to developing community-owned schemes is the removal of Social Investment Tax Relief (SITR) from community energy projects. This would de-risk future projects and incentivise more investment into community-owned renewables.
Investment in publicly available research
There is a general lack of publicly available research into community-owned tidal projects. We only found out late in the day that some other feasibility projects had taken place around Plymouth. If this data had been publicly available, it would have saved considerable time.
Investment in technology
We need more small-scale schemes with technology in the water. Many tidal power schemes are huge (e.g. Swansea lagoon, Severn Barrier) with significant costs, environmental impact and political implications.
We believe that smaller, community-owned turbines could herald the dawn of a new approach to tidal power and unleash some of the energy potential. These projects will be more affordable, have less environmental impact and with community support face fewer political barriers. However, technology developments are slow in this area.
In our experience explaining the concepts of community ownership and social enterprise took time and effort yet these models provide a fantastic opportunity for communities to own their own energy, to raise significant sums of investment and to mitigate community concerns about the impact of such projects. More work is needed to make community-ownership and social enterprise more publicly understood as an attractive option for developers.
Project development funding
There is limited funding available to help develop schemes. We recognise that these are business schemes and, on the whole, they should succeed or fail on their own commercial merits. However, if government believes in creating an economy that is more inclusive and which has less environmental impact then creating funds to support development of such schemes into this area would be a significant benefit.
We think there is a significant gap and potential for innovation in this market to create a more collaborative and resilient economy.
Our research shows that there very few community owned marine renewable developments. There appears to have been little policy or strategic development into supporting these types of projects. When compared to the wind and solar renewable energy sectors where social enterprise is a common business model this is surprising. A further knowledge gap exists in the innovative aspect of micro, or small scale, marine energy generation.
 Carbon Trust quoted in the Marine Energy Park Prospectus (RegenSW) - page 4
 South West Marine Energy Park Prospectus, Jan 2012, RegenSW - page 4