Tidal Barriers Could Offer More Benefits than Just Generating Clean Energy

An innovative new Mersey barrage concept indicates how tidal energy projects can provide a number of advantages to society besides clean renewable energy.

An illustration of the Mersey tidal barrage concept. (Image credit: Lancaster University)

According to scientists from Lancaster University and the University of Liverpool, when planned holistically, tidal barrage schemes can offer extra transport links for commuters, reduce wildlife habitat loss, become tourism destinations, as well as offer opportunities to improve people’s health and welfare with more options for walking and cycling.

The academics have suggested an elaborate new design for a mooted tidal energy barrage on the Mersey Estuary, which comprises one of the largest tidal ranges in the United Kingdom. Their concept is based on the shape of a whale and consists of platforms and buildings for leisure in the center of the river. The concept shows the extra benefits tidal schemes can offer.

The scientists created their Mersey estuary design to show how developers can use an innovative decision-making framework for tidal schemes known as the “North West Hydro Resource Model.”

This model, which was created by academics at Lancaster University’s Engineering Department, includes several factors that should be taken into account for tidal scheme designs, such as energy generation, land use, water supply, habitat, flood risk, fisheries, transport, cultural heritage, tourism, and job creation.

We need to view tidal energy projects holistically and recognise that they provide opportunities beyond energy generation, including environmental, societal and economic opportunities.

George Aggidis, Professor of Energy Engineering, Lancaster University

Aggidis is the lead researcher of the study and creator of the North West Hydro Resource Model.

Aggidis added, “The UK is uniquely positioned to benefit from tidal power, but so far no schemes have managed to get off the drawing board. By considering the needs of people, and the need to create compensatory habitats for wildlife, organic architectural designs like ours show how developers can enhance, rather than detract, from estuaries like the Mersey.”

Tidal barrages and lagoons can offer significant advantages over other sources of renewable power—we need to keep these additional opportunities in mind when comparing the costs and benefits of different forms of energy generation.

George Aggidis, Professor of Energy Engineering, Lancaster University

According to the scientists, with the appropriate design, a Mersey barrage has the potential to turn into an internationally recognizable piece of architectural infrastructure—a “hydropower landmark” promoting tourism to the region.

Their vision encompasses new leisure and transport links from Port Sunlight on the Wirral to the Festival Gardens on the Liverpool side of the estuary, together with new recreational cycle and walking paths and a monorail for travelers.

The concept covers a world-class center for hydropower research, which the researchers claim would additionally improve the region’s excellence in innovation and science and support education into the technology.

However, one of the key hindrances to tidal projects, besides comparatively high initial capital costs, is the apparent impact on the habitat of current wildlife within estuaries.

The researchers consider that any Mersey tidal project would need to provide another habitat to make up for losses to current mud flats—a key feeding area for migratory birds.

However, they claim that concerns about the negative effect on current wildlife have to be balanced against future environmental challenges.

As with hydropower dams, tidal barrages could have a major impact on local environments, with concerns over biodiversity. Steps would need to be taken to balance the negative environmental impact against the potential to protect against flooding from future sea-level rises caused by global warming.

George Aggidis, Professor of Energy Engineering, Lancaster University

Aggidis continued, “We recognise that the total area of intertidal mud-flats that would be lost cannot be replaced. To compensate for the negative ecological effects of the barrage, wildlife will be integrated into the core of the design, which provide habitats to encourage increases in the variety of biodiversity on the Mersey estuary.”

The scientists have described their WHALE design in the paper titled “Opportunities for tidal range projects beyond energy generation: using Mersey barrage as a case study,” which has been published in the journal Frontiers of Architectural Research.

Source: https://www.lancaster.ac.uk

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