Stuart Murphy, founder and inventor of the tidal lagoon system TPGen24, explains why he believes marine renewables have an important part to play in our energy mix and the fight against climate change
It’s definitely been a turbulent 18 months, and I’m not talking about COVID here. The catastrophic floods in Germany and Belgium, the wildfires tearing across swathes of the United States and Canada, and the UK’s first-ever ‘Amber Warning’ are just the tip of a fast-melting environmental iceberg. Currently, we’re well on the way to an irreversible climate catastrophe.
Yet, as much as this has been highly publicised, coupled with professional and personal commitment after commitment to do better by the ecosystem, concern sits uncomfortably alongside our insatiable appetite for a never-ending stream of cheap electricity. On the current trajectory, our renewables supply cannot keep pace. This means that, for all our talk about EVs, gas boiler scrappage, smart homes and hydrogen capture, we’ll still be falling back on gas, nuclear and imported electricity from ambiguous sources.
It’s a far from an ideal situation, and something needs to be done now if we want to continue living the data-driven lives we’ve become accustomed to, whilst simultaneously halting and reversing climate change.
Look, I’m not here to do down the great steps we’ve made in the renewables sector to date. It’s great to see offshore wind become a sustainable business success story. It’s also encouraging to see major advancements in solar capabilities. However, both remain inherently beholden to precise meteorological conditions, and as such, they are intermittent. Fundamentally, if the sun doesn’t shine and the wind doesn’t blow, they cannot generate any energy. This presents a huge problem as we look to phase out fossil fuel, become energy self-sufficient and satisfy society’s constant energy demands all at once.
We need a holistic strategy, one which actually explores every viable option available to create a strong and resilient mix, with the capacity to hand mass decarbonisation and digital adoption. I can’t help feeling the UK Government’s current vision is painfully narrow, with all their eggs placed in one basket.
For example, we have a rapidly growing tidal renewables market but, surprisingly for an island surrounded by some of the world’s best tidal ranges, our policymakers seem reluctant to explore them. This has to change soon, as these woefully under-explored resources have the potential to help cleanly deliver the essential versatility, flexibility and capacity to complement and support solar and wind, when they cannot deliver and replace Gas and Coal.
These problems, and the current lack of impetus to overcome them, has led me to develop my own solution: TPGen24. It’s a tidal triple lagoon-based system designed to remove the intermittency problem and deliver baseload electricity (the minimum level of demand on an electrical grid) even in times when these weather/sunshine-dependent systems cannot. Further, it generates clean energy 24/7, 365 days a year, making it a powerful proposition even at the development stage.
I hope the work I’m currently doing around tidal will encourage others to follow suit, whether it’s further exploring systems that harness this natural resource or other green alternatives. This is a collaborative process and we need multiple solutions, as there’s no single fix to the above challenges.
If we’re going to get really serious about our ambitions for a clean, green high-tech society then we need to establish a playing field where entrepreneurs like me feel supported. Currently, it feels like short term convenience is trumping long term ambition, hindering essential innovation in this field.
COP 26 is imminent and has been much trailed by Ministers from across the world making big claims around climate, all whilst they still fly long distances in fuel-guzzling private jets! I hope they deliver as these events tend to end up as navel-gazing, back-slapping affairs, all talk and no action.
What’s abundantly clear, is that our leaders need to take a long hard look at the current energy mix and see how it relates ten, fifty, a hundred years down the line.
I know they will find it distinctly lacking. The fact is, electricity consumption will exponentially increase over the next decade and we need to be prepared with a green energy infrastructure that can deliver.
As we can see, the answers are there, we just need to get serious about investing in them, particularly if we want to avoid climate catastrophe. After all… there’s no Planet B.
TPGen24 is a tidal lagoon-based system where each plant can generate up to 6TW of electricity a year. It comprises three central, tiered lagoons, each separated by a dam, loaded with 10,000 vertically stacked turbine units, bookended by smart-controlled sluice gates. What is described as setting TPGen24 apart from other tidal systems is the ability to control the timing of the water flow. Using the sluice gate network, water can be stored within the lagoons regardless of tidal patterns, and release on demand, essentially offering flexibility and round-the-clock provision.
TPGen24 can be deployed at least 1km offshore in any coastal region with a high tidal range.
Development of the system has been steady but breakthroughs in 2020 have made it “hard to ignore now.” Testing is currently underway.
This article first appeared in International Water Power magazine.