Tidal Power in Guernsey – How Realistic is the Possibility? Presentation to the Guernsey Chamber of Commerce by the Guernsey Renewable Energy Commission

June 22nd, 2010 by Richard Lord

Former Concorde pilot and lawyer Richard Babbé and businessman Jeremy Thompson of the Guernsey Renewable Energy Commission gave presentations on marine renewable energy to the Guernsey Chamber of Commerce luncheon on 21 June 2010.

Former Concorde pilot and lawyer Richard Babbé begins the presentation on Guernsey's marine renewable energy potential and the work of the GREC

Richard Babbé began his presentation by saying that the Guernsey Renewable Energy Commission (GREC) was only a shadow commission at the moment.  There was no statutory framework yet and that GREC’s mission was to establish that framework for the orderly development of marine renewable energy production in the Guernsey territorial sea.

The commission had produced a hundred page Regional Environmental Assessment Scoping document and were soon to produce a 500 page Regional Environmental Assessment document (REA).

The shadow Commission made up of Richard Babbé, Jeremy Thompson and Professor Nicholas Day who all volunteer their time, realised early-on that their task wasn’t simply to establish the regulatory framework.  Their task was also to communicate to all interested parties about their activities, as there was “a fair amount of misconception” about marine tidal energy.

GREC was formed in 2008 by the States of Guernsey Department of Commerce & Employment.  The States Department was directed to set-up the Commission by the States of Deliberation, which noted the Energy Policy.  The States of Deliberation also noted that a proposal that 20% of Guernsey’s electricity should be from renewable sources by 2020.

GREC engaged in a three-stage process.  The REA sets the scene for what is in Guernsey’s territorial waters and suggests impacts that might occur from the installation of marine tidal energy facilities.

The REA does not cover off-shore wind energy but Richard Babbé said that the more the Commission looked into renewable energy the more it recognised the importance of off-shore wind energy.

The Commission is establishing the legal framework necessary to allow developers to exploit the energy resources of the sea.  Sark is developing similar laws so it is hoped that there could be one Commission for Guernsey and Sark.

Commercial marine energy developers need a single point of contact. The Commission wishes to make the application process as simple as possible for developers so all the regulatory requirements such as planning permission and health and safety requirements can be handled by one organisation.

Research into tidal flow around Guernsey was carried out by Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen.  The largest resource was identified in the Big Russel between Herm and Sark where the tidal stream can run at 5 knots or more.  This is identified as the pink area on the map.

Guernsey has control over territorial seas out to three miles.  This three mile limit is not an obstacle to exploiting tidal resources as the greatest tidal streams flow through pinch points between the islands.

The pink area shows the highest potential for capturing tidal energy - click on the map to enlarge. Map courtesy of GREC

For off-shore wind energy the north-west coast of Guernsey was identified as the best location.  Again the three mile territorial sea limit is not restrictive because the inshore area is shallower for driving the piles for the turbines.

Businessman Jeremy Thompson continued the presentation by clearing up some misconceptions.  He recounted that Jonathon Porritt had mentioned during a Guernsey presentation that “Guernsey was the Saudi Arabia of tidal power.”  Mr. Thompson said that he came to the Commission with massive expectations for marine tidal energy but since receiving a grounding in the reality of tidal resources he realises that “tidal power will not replace the finance industry as Guernsey’s main source of revenue.”  He said that it needed to be stated that marine tidal power was nowhere near as developed as wind turbine technology and that there would be no off-shore marine renewable power without a subsidy.  To prove the point he mentioned the 600 mW Pentland Firth marine tidal project which will receive three Renewable Obligation Certificates (ROCs) for every MWh generated.   (ROCs are currently worth £40 to £50 per MWh to renewable energy producers.)  Mr. Thompson stressed that at the moment “there are no commercial arrays of marine tidal turbines anywhere.”  There are only statements about larger developments, which are extrapolations of single devices (such as the MCT SeaGen device in Strangford Narrows, Northern Ireland.)

Jeremy Thompson of the Guernsey Renewable Energy Commission discussing the potential for marine tidal power in the Bailiwick

Mr. Thompson said that marine tidal energy devices were an exciting technology but developers were investing in a risk industry.  At the moment manufacturers of these devices have no commercial volume so there are no economies-of-scale.

Guernsey is not being marketed as a testing ground for early developers.  We are still very early on in the commercial stage but “there are good signs as large companies such as Rolls Royce and Siemens enter the fray.”

The companies that take the risks to develop this industry will make the money but they will need an inducement in the form of a subsidy.  Towards the end of his presentation Mr. Thompson posed the question whether Guernsey had a moral if not a legal obligation to comply with Kyoto targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Richard Babbé continued the presentation by stating that the total energy flowing through the Big Russel (the passage between Herm and Sark) was estimated at 720 GWh, which represents twice Guernsey’s current electricity demand.  If marine tidal devices could harness 10% of that energy it would supply 20% of Guernsey’s electricity supply.  Based on Guernsey’s 2008 electricity demand, 10% of this demand could be supplied by ten tidal turbines.  Mr. Babbé didn’t see that the French would be paying for our marine renewable energy any time soon.  It might be a possibility a long way out in the future, he said.

Mr. Babbé said also that five wind turbines off north-west Guernsey might be able to supply 10% of Guernsey’s electricity requirements.  There had been talk about the interference of wind turbines with aviation but these problems were being dealt with.

Mr. Babbé gave a list of the considerable advantages Guernsey has to develop its marine renewable energy resources.  He said that Guernsey provided a local load – the consumer was close to the marine renewable energy resource.  The island had good infrastructure and very good local expertise.

There were some challenges though.  Guernsey did not have much appetite for setting targets and this was up to politicians.  As the knowledge of the resource was much better now, targets should also be set now.  At the moment targets for renewable energy production have been only noted by the States of Deliberation.

Another challenge is the technology.  The marine renewable energy sector is in its infancy.  The wind energy industry is still meeting with little problems and that industry is far more mature than the marine renewable energy industry.  Commercial arrays of marine turbines won’t be operational until 2017 so “Guernsey has got to run pretty fast if it wants to develop marine renewable energy by 2015.”  Developing marine renewable energy is a long-term project.  A subsidy or premium will be required for the foreseeable future.  The price of electricity will have to go up by 20% if Guernsey is to achieve 20% of its electricity production from renewable energy.  Mr. Babbé said “Guernsey can be ready in time for the technology.  The legislative framework will allow for the orderly development of the industry.  Our next stage is to provide recommendations to the Department of Commerce & Employment.”

Mr. Thompson added that the beauty of marine tidal energy is that it is predictable and non-depleting.  Also, he said “we are working on a pan-Channel Islands basis.  We have developed informal links with the other islands, which are proving very successful.”

“Wave technology has been looked at also but it would require a larger exclusion area than tidal energy devices,” he said.

Members of the Guernsey Renewable Energy Commission answering questions from the audience (click to expand)

  1. No Comments

Have your say