Skip to content
Skip to navigation menu


Modelling the impact of the Severn Tidal Power Project

10 May 2008

Professor Roger Falconer with a model of the Severn Estuary

A team of School of Engineering researchers is making it possible to more accurately predict the impact of using the world's second highest tidal range as a source of energy.

Led by Professor Roger Falconer, researchers from the Hydro-environmental Research Centre have designed and built Wales’ first physical model of the Severn Estuary. This will be used to more accurately study the impact of proposed Severn Tidal Power projects, including a Barrage and other forms of tidal renewable energy.

Located in the Hyder Hydraulics Laboratory, the model is the first of its kind capable of investigating the full environmental impact of different options for a Barrage and lagoons in the Severn Estuary and has been funded by the Welsh Assembly Government’s Welsh European Funding Office (WEFO).

Designed to resemble as closely as possible all the unique characteristics of the estuary which stretches from west of Carmarthen Bay (near Tenby) to Gloucester, the model is located in a 6m x 4m tidal basin. It will allow for improved computer simulations of flooding patterns, inter-tidal habitat area changes, sediment transport and bed changes, such as erosion and deposition. Modelling of changes in beach morphology and general water quality characteristics, such as light intensity in the water column, nutrients and faecal bacteria levels, with and without the proposed Barrage will also be possible.

One option for a Cardiff to Western Barrage would stretch from Lavernock Point to Brean Down and is estimated to cost around £15 billion. The massive structure could potentially harness the tidal energy of the Severn Estuary and, within 14 years, could generate about 5% of the UK’s supply of electricity.

Built in collaboration with Swansea University, the model features a computer controlled oscillating weir, which is used to generate tides of varying amplitude and period. It has a removable model barrage that allows conditions before and after the construction of the barrage to be simulated. It also allows for the impact of other tidal energy devices, including tidal lagoon and tidal stream turbines, to be examined. Professor Roger Falconer and Jane Davidson, AM

Jane Davidson, Welsh Assembly Government Minister for Environment, Sustainability and Housing, who officially unveiled the model, said: "The Estuary is famous for having the second highest tidal range in the world. An ability to model this will be of international importance and will further enhance the reputation for excellence of Cardiff University and its School of Engineering.

"The Welsh Assembly and UK Governments are currently undertaking a feasibility study on the effect that different options for a barrage and lagoons would have - for example on flooding risk and siltation. I look forward to hearing of progress made by Professor Falconer, and researchers from other universities, in using the physical and computer models to increase understanding of these hydro-environmental impacts."

Professor Roger Falconer, Halcrow Professor of Water Management, and Director of the Hydro–environmental Research Centre said: "A number of studies relating to the potential impact of a barrage have been carried out since the proposal was first mooted. However, this physical model, which is close in design to the actual basin, will enable us for the first time to look in-depth and over the long term at the potential impact of a barrage or other tidal-range development on the surrounding aquatic environments and habitats."

"Combine this facility with the computer models already in place at the Centre, and we should be able to identify problems and establish appropriate solutions over time."