SCIENTISTS from the University of Southampton have published a study explaining the untapped potential of tidal power.

Professor of sustainable energy AbuBakr Bahaj has led a global study into tidal power featued in a special issue of The Royal Society journal, saying that it has the capacity to provide more than 20 per cent of the UK’s energy demands.

They study said that while the predictable nature of tides makes them an ideal renewable energy source, more so than wind, the ability to harness this type of energy has proved elusive. But the researchers say they are “extremely optimistic” that tidal stream technology can be realised relatively soon.

“Tidal power will give us another component in the energy mix that’s more energetic and reliable than wind,” said Prof Bahaj.

“While technologies harnessing energy from the tides and currents have been discussed for many years  it is evident from recent deployment of single devices at megawatt scale that real progress has been achieved in a very short period of time.

"In essence experience with single machines at such a power capacity will make progress to the deployment of multiple machines much faster than that achieved at the start of the wind energy industry.”

Engineers tap tides in two ways. One involves building barrages across tidal estuaries so that the flowing waters turn turbines.

The other method involves placing turbines underwater in areas with fast flowing tidal streams, such as those found in coastal waters around the Channel Islands and Scotland.

Developing power from offshore tidal streams is fraught with difficulty but the authors of this latest research say 2013 could see a big breakthrough in tidal stream power.

“This is a crucial milestone for technology development and deployment,” added Prof Bahaj.