Financial risks

The main area of risk in tidal power development is associated with the construction of the plant and barrage. Each site is unique and will consequently present unique challenges which will need to be overcome. A careful survey will be the first requirement in order to determine the optimum site for construction of the barrage. This will need to include an accurate hydro-logical survey; factors such as sedimentation will depend on the precise location of the structure.

Barrage construction, particularly where a large barrage is required to dam a deep estuary, presents the greatest technical challenge. There is no consensus about how such a structure should be erected. Caisson construction appears to offer the best option although novel techniques, such as that suggested for construction of the Mersey barrage discussed above, should not be ruled out.

A tidal power plant, like a conventional hydro project, will be subject to geological risk associated with the nature of the rock foundations at the project site so an extensive geological survey will be vital. When construction begins, contingencies should be made to take into account other variables in the estuary environment including spring tides and the possibility of a river flood. Major operations such as caisson placement should be scheduled for neap tides when conditions will be at their most benign.

Compared to the uncertainty associated with barrage construction, the electromechanical equipment for tidal power should present little risk. Standard low-head turbine and generator designs are now well understood and although more advanced designs such as the Straflo turbine exist, there is no compelling reason to employ them.

One major risk associated with conventional hydropower projects, that of hydrological risk, is absent in the tidal power development. While the flow of water in a river cannot be predicted with any certainly, the tidal movement can be determined with great precision. Thus plant output can be predicted with ease.

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