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Britain aims to rule the waves again

The island nation hopes to tap its location to meet the EU's alternative-energy targets.

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Britain prided itself on ruling the waves in the 19th century; they might once again in the 21st century. But not with its Navy. This time, Britain's chosen vessels are new technologies that convert the pounding of the waves and the ebbing of tides into the thrum of electricity.

While still years behind other alternative-energy forms, wave and tidal power systems are already in the pipeline in Britain. Officials here stress that Britain aims to become a world leader in the new form of energy.

A range of multimillion-pound projects have been announced in recent weeks, promising to generate enough electricity for thousands of homes.

In addition, the government has ordered a feasibility study into a $30 billion, 10-mile hydroelectric barrage across the Severn estuary in western England, which could provide almost 5 percent of the country's energy needs.

Sea power is an obvious solution for Britain. Its exposure to gusty Atlantic winds mean that wave patterns are ripe for power generation. Its craggy 7,000-mile coastline, comprising hundreds of islets, makes for fast-moving tidal currents that offer substantial hydroelectric possibilities.

"We have about the best resource in the world for both wave and tidal," says Gordon Edge of the British Wind Energy Association, the trade and professional body for Britain's wind and marine renewables industries. "Any country with a west coast does well for wave power because prevailing winds tend to come from the west." Even better, he adds, if you have a large ocean out to the west, across which prevailing winds can whip up large waves.

Private sector leads the way

A Scottish company, Pelamis Wave Power, has spearheaded private-sector efforts to develop technology that can be towed out to sea and convert wave motion into energy.

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