If Morocco can use its desert, why can’t Britain use its sea?

Photo: constructionweekonline.com
Photo: constructionweekonline.com


Yesterday the BBC reported that next month the North African state of Morocco is going to open one of the biggest solar power plants in the world, using hundreds of solar panels stretching out into the desert.  The energy from the solar power plant, based at Ouarzazate, will be used to power an entire city.  That’s right — Morocco is turning a huge expanse of empty, useless desert into an energy-making powerhouse.

It begs the question, then, why on earth Britain isn’t doing something similar.  Sure, Britain doesn’t have a massive expanse of desert (though if global warming carries on as it has been doing you never know) but it is surrounded by a massive expanse of sea.  As a means of creating renewable energy, you can’t get much better than the sea — with the ability to make energy from both the waves and the tides, you would have to say that the electricity-making potential is far greater for the sea than some crumby old desert.

For several cases in point, you only need to look at a few other countries who looked out of their bedroom window one morning, saw the sea and thought “I can do something with that.”  South Korea has several major tidal power stations, at Sihwa Lake, Jindo Uldolmok and Ganghwa Island.  Portugal takes the prize of first wave farm, with the Agucadoura opened in September 2008. Australia also has several major windfarms.  The UK’s effort, meanwhile, seems feeble by comparison.

Now let me just say, there are a few good examples of the UK (or its regional governments in Stormont, Cardiff and Edinburgh) investing in wave or tidal.  Projects or plants have been or are being established in the Orkney Islands, Strangford Lough, Cornwall and Swansea Bay. But given we’re actually surrounded by sea (something Portugal and South Korea can’t claim) it’s surprising that we aren’t investing more in tidal and wave and persist with planet-destroying or dangerous options like fracking and nuclear.

Unfortunately, when it comes to renewable energy, the UK is extremely unambitious —while Morocco plans to get 42% of its energy from renewables by 2020, the (much richer) UK only plans to get 30% by the same date.

As the climate continues to warm up, the pressure is rising for a renewables revolution in the UK.  More tidal and wave power plants would create jobs, boost the economy and help save the planet.  Let’s hope the tide changes and the UK government takes these ideas on board.

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Jon Holiday

Jon commentates on the ways culture and politics interact.

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