Amid rising global concerns following Japan’s disastrous 11 March 2011 nuclear catastrophe at TEPCO’s Fukushima Daichi nuclear complex and surging oil prices, renewable energy is receiving increased attention from investors.
The leading candidates are solar and wind energy, but both have problems beyond significant investment costs and the fact that they have yet to generate power at competitive rates with more traditional power sources such as oil, coal and natural gas.
Beyond issues of power storage, a further concern is the fickle nature of their sources – the sun doesn’t always shine, and the wind is hardly a constant factor.
So, among renewable, which potential power source is so reliable that admiralties have been publishing detailed charts of its progressions for more than two centuries?
Tides are generated by the gravitational forces of the moon. Should these be disrupted, then investors, power companies and governments will likely have more immediate concerns than the quarterly bottom line.
Similar to solar power, currently battling between photovoltaic power and parabolic mirror steam-generated turbine driven systems, no industry-wide standard for tidal power has yet emerged, but smart investors will follow the money trail.
That said, Britain is swiftly emerging as the cutting edge country for tidal development.
On 17 February at the Anglo-French summit, a memorandum of understanding was signed to develop the FABLin interconnector between France, Alderney and Britain, which would help transport tidal power from an Alderney Renewable Energy (ARE) tidal project and French grid operator Reseau de Transport d'Electricite (RTE).
ARE also signed an agreement with French industrial group Direction des Constructions Navales (DCNS) to develop tidal arrays in Alderney's waters to provide up to four gigawatts of tidal power via the FABLink interconnector between Britain, Alderney and France, permitting the transfer of about four gigawatts of tidal energy from Alderney's waters.
If all goes well, the contracts will result in the construction of one of the largest tidal power farms in Europe.
So, will tidal power trump its renewable competitors?
Consider – solar and wind power are struggling, in Europe at least.
Denmark's Vestas Wind Systems AS, the world's biggest wind turbine maker, since 2008 has seen its stock value plummet by 90 percent and the U.S. preeminent solar energy firm First Solar, has seen its stock decrease from more than $250 to just over $40 during the same period.
And in the Third World, given dueling photovoltaic systems versus steam turbine systems, even China's photovoltaic solar-panel manufacturer Suntech Power Holdings and India's alternative parabolic mirror solar-powered steam turbine manufacturer Suzlon Energy Inc have suffered significant stock losses over the past few years. Even in Germany, which since Fukushima has declared its intention to shutter its nuclear power plants and make up the country’s electrical deficit from an expanded commitment to renewable energy has seen its massive solar panel manufacturer Q-Cells restructure its debt to stave off bankruptcy.
And wind and solar “First World” renewable energy is unlikely to recover anytime soon, for a number of reasons. Decreasing natural gas prices, China’s increasing production of photovoltaic cells have combined with the global recession, which began in 2008, to impel many governments to begin cutting budgets and subsidies to “go with what they know” in terms of power generation.
That said, British-French investment in a renewable energy source that harnesses a predictable power source is a strong sign of the future viability of the concept.
No less an authority than the International Energy Agency (IEA) is endorsing renewable energy. In presenting its upcoming “Deploying Renewables 2011: Best and Future Policy Practice,” to be published in July, IEA Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven said in Berlin, “'A portfolio of renewable energy technologies is becoming competitive in an increasing range of circumstances and countries.”
With both Britain and France mired in the EU’s economic downturn but nevertheless funding tidal power projects, maybe it’s time for smart investors to expand their portfolios and consider floating their boats with tidal power.
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By. Dr. John C.K. Daly of Oilprice.com