Plans to build a 100 megawatt tidal station in the Kimberley region of north-west Australia have been revived, almost ten years after the project failed due to cost blow-outs. In addition to providing a clean source of energy, the station has the potential to increase economic and social opportunities in the region.
In early August 2011, West Australian-based developer, Tidal Energy Australia, reapplied for environmental approval for the project. Although first announced in 2003, the project was shelved due to the significant capital required for construction. The project’s viability, however, has been greatly enhanced by incentives from the Federal Government for cleaner energy and an increase in regional demand. Managing Director of Tidal Energy Australia, Brian Rourke, said the project at Doctor’s Creek, near Derby, has the potential to be the world’s third-largest tidal power plant.
The Doctor’s Creek site has substantial tidal power potential, due to its high tidal range and geographical variables that enhance tidal energy. Similar to other forms of hydroelectricity, tidal power generation relies upon damming large bodies of water and harnessing the kinetic energy in the water. Typically, an estuary is dammed and, during high tides, the gates are opened to allow the estuary to fill. At low tide the gates are closed, forcing the receding water through a turbine and producing electricity.
Tidal power has significant energy credentials and is capable of sustaining a significant portion of base load power. Tidal energy is highly efficient, particularly when compared to other forms of sustainable energy. Ocean currents have a high energy density; an eight knot current produces power equivalent to a 390km/h wind. The predictability of tides, and their immunity to climatic conditions, further contributes to the reliability of tidal energy over other forms of green energy.
In addition to providing diversified energy opportunities, the Tidal Energy Australia project has the potential to produce broad social and economic benefits for the region. The creation of the large permanent body of water required for the project, could allow the development of complementary enterprises, such as the aquaculture and tourism industries. Derby could aim to replicate the Gordon River Hydro Facility in Tasmania, where viewing points and tourist facilities have made the site a tourism hub, providing a broader economic base and employment opportunities.
All stakeholders associated with the Kimberley tidal project have the potential for mutually beneficial outcomes, should the plan develop and become a reality. Tidal Energy Australia must engage government at both state and federal levels, to promote the opportunities that the station could create and gain access to much-needed capital. Equally, both levels of government have a vested interest in the project’s success, bringing much-needed regional economic development and promotion of Australia’s future energy security.
Northern Australia and Energy Security Research Programmes