Feeds

Alex Salmond's fantasy of a tidal-powered Scotland washed away

SNP's King Canute 'in a minority of one' on Pentland potential, says boffin

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

The essential guide to IT transformation

One of Alex Salmond's ambitious dreams for an independent Scotland - that it would soon become rich by exporting clean green electricity pouring from tidal powerplants in the Pentland Firth - has been destroyed this week by new research showing that the Firth's potential output is far less than Salmond had thought.

The wild-eyed Scots politico, announcing early efforts in the Firth in 2008, went so far as to suggest that not only could Scotland power itself on Pentland 'leccy, but that it would be selling electricity in substantial amounts to less fortunate nations.

"The sort of power that potentially could come from this area is not some hundreds of megawatts, it's not just like one conventional power station, its 20 gigawatts and more than that, that's like 20 conventional power stations," he enthused back in 2008.

"We have to get in a position where we have a supergrid, not just to England but across to Europe to sell that energy to people who need it," added the would-be premier of an independent Scotland.

A steady twenty or even thirty gigawatts as envisioned by Mr Salmond would indeed be more than sufficient to meet all of Scotland's energy needs, not just that much smaller amount supplied today in electric form. At the moment (pdf page 4) Scotland consumes around 13,301 kilotons-of-oil-equivalent of energy in all forms (electricity, coal, oil, gas, all of it). Even in a future with fully electric transport, industry, heating etc, such a level of demand would equate to steady production of well under the Pentland's supposed 20 gigawatts, leaving a sizeable surplus for export to energy-starved England and the Continent.

There's just one problem with that: it's a load of rubbish, according to a new study published by a group of engineers based at Oxford uni and in Ireland and Australia. They write in the Proceedings of the Royal Society A:

It is found that three rows of turbines extending across the entire width of the Pentland Firth and blocking a large fraction of the channel can theoretically generate 1.9 GW, averaged ... generation of significantly more power than this is unlikely to be feasible as the available power per additional swept area of turbine is too small to be viable.

"We are happy our number is very robust," lead author Thomas Adcock tells the Guardian, describing the adviser who had given Salmond his figures as being "in a minority of one" among subject-matter experts.

Tellingly, the Scottish government webpage "Energy in Scotland: Get the facts" has now been amended to remove claims of 14GW tidal potential, though the foolish figure can still be seen in the Google cache for the moment.

So in fact the Pentland Firth, described as "the world's best site for tidal power" by Grauniad enviromation correspondent Damian Carrington today*, could at the outside maximum supply about 10 per cent of Scotland's energy needs (that is, less than a single percentage point of Britain's as a whole). The figure would almost certainly be a lot less in the real world, as the Firth is a busy shipping route and full exploitation would mean closing it completely.

The cost of doing this would be massive compared to that of simply building a nuclear power station with the same output (in the Severn estuary the proposed barrages were costed at six to ten times as much as equivalent nuclear plants). The price difference would have to be made up by government action to force electricity prices up much higher than they would otherwise be - and such government action has already been responsible for the bulk of the electricity price rises of the past decade. The scope for even more gouging is probably limited.

Comment

Carbon emissions may perhaps, as climate alarmists contend, be a terrible and immediate menace. But the allied idea that the carbon-driven power sources of today can really be replaced in any meaningful or affordable fashion by renewables looks madder and madder every day. ®

Bootnotes

*He seems to have forgotten about the Severn estuary. At one point, enthusiastic tidal developers were pushing plans for a massive barrage there from Minehead to Aberthaw, which would have produced averaged output of 2.9 gigawatts, making the Pentland look rather small. Disappointing work from the "head of environment" at a major newspaper, really. Perhaps he means "world's best site for tidal power where plans for tidal power have not yet been formally scrapped".

Wondering about the word "enviromation"? It comes from The Day Today, whose Rosie May was more like an accurate picture of many mainstream media environment correspondents than a parody.

Keen on tidal power? Enthusiastic Scottish nationalist? Love The Day Today? Think the author of this should be fired, or killed? None of the above but keen to have your say anyway? Fire up a thread in our lovely forums!

Build a business case: developing custom apps

More from The Register

next story
Hello, police, El Reg here. Are we a bunch of terrorists now?
Do Brits risk arrest for watching beheading video nasty? We asked the fuzz
UK fuzz want PINCODES on ALL mobile phones
Met Police calls for mandatory passwords on all new mobes
Munich considers dumping Linux for ... GULP ... Windows!
Give a penguinista a hug, the Outlook's not good for open source's poster child
EU justice chief blasts Google on 'right to be forgotten'
Don't pretend it's a freedom of speech issue – interim commish
Detroit losing MILLIONS because it buys CHEAP BATTERIES – report
Man at hardware store was right: name brands DO last longer
Snowden on NSA's MonsterMind TERROR: It may trigger cyberwar
Plus: Syria's internet going down? That was a US cock-up
UK government accused of hiding TRUTH about Universal Credit fiasco
'Reset rating keeps secrets on one-dole-to-rule-them-all plan', say MPs
Caught red-handed: UK cops, PCSOs, specials behaving badly… on social media
No Mr Fuzz, don't ask a crime victim to be your pal on Facebook
e-Borders fiasco: Brits stung for £224m after US IT giant sues UK govt
Defeat to Raytheon branded 'catastrophic result'
Yes, but what are your plans if a DRAGON attacks?
Local UK gov outs most ridiculous FoI requests...
prev story

Whitepapers

Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Top 10 endpoint backup mistakes
Avoid the ten endpoint backup mistakes to ensure that your critical corporate data is protected and end user productivity is improved.
Top 8 considerations to enable and simplify mobility
In this whitepaper learn how to successfully add mobile capabilities simply and cost effectively.
Rethinking backup and recovery in the modern data center
Combining intelligence, operational analytics, and automation to enable efficient, data-driven IT organizations using the HP ABR approach.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.