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Energy expert says the Dragon Energy Island proposal could win favour

BATTERY storage and the UK Government’s “levelling up” mantra may turn the tide in favour of the Dragon Energy Island proposal for Swansea Bay, an energy expert has said.

Robert Gross, director of the UK Energy Research Centre, said tidal lagoon energy – the centrepiece of the Dragon Energy Island proposition – had hitherto been considered too expensive for the UK Government to support.

Subsidy costs sounded the death knell of a £1.3 billion tidal energy lagoon project put forward years ago by Tidal Lagoon Power for Swansea, despite the company getting permission to build the privately-funded project.

The tidal lagoon concept has been broadened by a capital funding specialist to become a larger infrastructure proposition – Dragon Energy Island – potentially featuring a floating solar farm, floating houses, wind turbines and an underwater data centre.

And this week Bridgend-based battery storage firm DST Innovations Ltd announced it had brought together a consortium to deliver the project.

Dr Gross told the Local Democracy Reporter Service that tidal lagoons were still newcomers, while prices for wind and solar energy had experienced “remarkable cost reductions”.

He said the issue for tidal lagoon and other tidal stream schemes, like underwater turbines, was that they’re more “bespoke and relatively novel” and therefore likely to be more expensive.

Dr Gross said tidal lagoons’ key advantage was predictable power generation, but storing that electricity to match demand was tricky.

“The new scheme proposes to include storage batteries and this could make the economics more attractive,” he said. “It will also include floating solar and this too could improve the economics.”

He added: “Another very important consideration is regional development. This too has become a higher priority for Government as a result of commitments to ‘level up’ the UK.

“Tidal lagoons have often been argued to be good for job creation and perhaps that will be a stronger driver of Government support in this new context.”

But he said more details were needed to judge whether DST Innovations’ proposal would be viable.

He also suggested that the Government might be more persuaded to provide subsidies if it was confident of more, cheaper lagoons being delivered – a case that was put forward by Tidal Lagoon Power.

DST Innovations said its proposal differed significantly from Tidal Lagoon Power’s, and was not linked to it “in any way”.

A spokeswoman said the energy elements of its scheme, which could also include some hydrogen production, were estimated to be approximately £1.4 billion.

The company said it will reveal its consortium partners early next year.

Meanwhile, it said it was looking at a number of potential sites for a battery manufacturing base in Swansea.

Asked whether UK Government or Welsh Government financial support would be required, the DST spokeswoman said: “We anticipate announcements from both Governments in due course. Both Governments are aware of the new proposal.”

The Dragon Energy Island concept has been promoted by a Swansea Bay City Region task force and submitted to the Welsh Government for consideration.

It has its detractors, and planning permission and a marine licence would be required, among other things.

Swansea Council Leader Rob Stewart is a strong advocate.

“The impacts on employment and our local economy are set to be significant and perfectly timed as we address the post-Covid economy,” he said.

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