Huge tidal deployment mooted for $80bn Thames Hub scheme

Tidal power is at the heart of a £50bn ($80bn) plan to transform London’s Thames Estuary, unveiled today in the UK by engineering consultants Halcrow and architects Foster + Partners.

The ambitious Thames Hub scheme features an industrial-scale tidal barrage and in-stream arrays, along with a new flood defence system and a massive upgrade of southeast England’s transport infrastructure centred around a new London airport in the estuary.

A utilities and communications corridor – called The Spine – housing data cabling, water and energy distribution infrastructure running south to north along the length of the UK is also part of the mega-development proposal.

Costed at around £5bn, the tidal power barrage, 500 metres in width and straddling a 5km-wide stretch of the Thames, would produce some 525GWh a year – enough to supply electricity to 76,000 households or meet 100% of the power needs of the new airport.

Along with arrays made up of a further 1,000 60-90kW run-of-river turbines, the scheme also proposes building-in tidal-power devices to the new flood barrier, which would be constructed upstream of the London Gateway port.

Routing energy production from these installations into power transmission infrastructure being developed for the 1GW London Array wind farm is being explored.

The new airport would be on a peninsula in the Thames Estuary near the Medway Towns in Kent. The plan also encompasses a four-track, high-speed passenger and freight “orbital rail” around London, connected to the new airport and then to European networks via the Channel Tunnel.

Halcrow's Thames Hub project director Ben Hamer tells Recharge the scheme mirrors work done by the company in the Middle East and Asia, where there is a demand for "master plans" that improve the global competitiveness of nations – “plans where they set out to be the biggest and best at something”.

Hamer adds: “These projects are the sort that were much more common [in the UK] in the Victorian era. We seem at this point in our history to have lost our momentum”.

He claims the Thames Hub is “perfectly deliverable. The key thing is we need the political support to enable the private and the public sector funding to be brought together to make such a project a reality.”

Construction of the Thames Hub would take 10-15 years at a capital cost of some £3-£5bn per annum, according to economists Volterra Partners, which crunched the numbers for the project.

Hamer says that while dialogue with the government has so far been “on the consultation level" rather than over direct support, early soundings leave him “confident that the money is available for such a project”.

As lead company in the Corlan Hafren consortium, Halcrow, is submitting a development plan to UK government “in the next few weeks” to push ahead with its revival of the 8.6GW version of the Severn Barrage in southwest England.

Darius Snieckus, Bristol

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