Byline: By Sarah Miloudi Western Mail
Sarah Miloudi reports on the proposed Severn Barrage and other ideas for tidal and wind power - not forgetting exciting prospects for coal-fired power generation - that some say could make Britain a big energy exporter
SCEPTICS of the project to construct a barrage across the Severn are more than few in number and, since the latest, pounds 15bn plans first surfaced in 2005, the proposed construction has courted controversy and provoked numerous opponents to lobby against it going ahead.
Coupled with these, supporters of the 10-mile barrage, that would stretch from Lavernock near Cardiff to Weston-super-Mare in Somerset, will have to contend with a new and cleaner breed of coal-fired generators which is currently being examined as a means of meeting our energy needs.
And now, as the debate on whether the barrage should be built has quietened down, questions have shifted towards asking: can the barrage and other forms of renewable energies really be sustainable?
"Wind can provide approximately 20% of the energy we need in England and Wales, but that still leaves a gap," said Paul Allen, director of the Centre for Alternative Technologies (CAT) at Machynlleth in Powys.
"We absolutely need to maximise indigenous forms of energies.
"Traditionally we have not spent on these resources, as we are used to cheaper forms of energy being imported from abroad and had a resource in the North Sea. But now, this is changing."
According to the former electrical engineer, who has spent the past 20 years working at CAT and now considers environmental energy policies for the centre, the hostility shown towards Britain from other energy-rich countries and successive hikes in fuel prices have pushed the Government to invest more in these areas, and has driven up the issue of finding greener energies in the list of public priorities.
Others, such as Dr Jamie Orme, co-creator and managing director of Swanturbine, agree.
His Swansea-based company has created a water turbine of the same name, which can be likened to an underwater windmill modelled on existing tidal stream technology, and works by capturing energy from currents in the sea.
He says forms of renewable energy created by the barrage and tidal streams can work alongside wind power to meet all of our energy needs, and may even provide a new form of income for the UK.
Dr Orme said, "The barrage is a fantastic project.
"Recent reports by the Sustainable Energy Commission show that this, and using tidal streams, can provide up to 10% of the UK's energy, and there is information to suggest we can create up to 50% of what we need using renewables, and the methods are not mutually exclusive."
Harnessing natural resources, such as wind, wave and tidal power, not only have the potential to provide half of the country's energy according to reports, but could become a sustainable resource of energy which experts say will never run out.
Tidal patterns can also be predicted up to 30 years in advance and, when taken together, wave, tidal and wind power could turn the UK into the "Saudi Arabia" of Europe, and give it a leading position in an energy market worth billions of pounds.
"Tidal stream energy has the potential of creating a future for the UK's exports in the form of licences and making such devices to sell abroad," Dr Orme added.
"The tidal stream market alone is work between pounds 112bn and pounds 400bn and, although the energy created can cost the same as coal (approximately 2.5p per unit), it is a sustainable market as these resources will never run out.
"The Danes have done extremely well out of developing wind power and, as the UK is leading in tidal streams, there is potential that exists and the UK has one of the most favourable climates for this."