Governments looking to speed up the renewable energy revolution are beginning to discuss the long-overlooked potential of tidal power. In response to oil and gas shortages, due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, countries around the world have been looking at ways to boost supply, as well as attempting to secure long-term energy security. One potential opportunity that is rarely discussed is tidal energy, harnessing the power of the ocean to generate electricity. In the U.K., several tidal projects are underway across various areas of the country. The $39 million Morlais project on an island off of Wales is being funded by the European Union. Turbines are set to be installed across 13 square miles, making the area one of the world’s biggest tidal stream energy locations. The project attracted such high levels of investment because it offers a more reliable alternative to solar and wind power thanks to the predictability of the tide.
As the U.K. rapidly moves away from coal, energy firms have been looking for renewable alternatives to fill the gap. Morlais will use kinetic energy from the tide to generate power for over 180,000 houses. However, this is small compared to some other proposals such as the plan for an $8.8 billion project aimed at powering around a million houses.
Earlier this year, councilors backed a proposal for the construction of a 19-mile-long sea wall and the installation of several turbines to generate tidal power in Denbighshire, Wales. But now North Wales Tidal Energy will have to appeal to the U.K. government to get support for such a large-scale project.
However, several tidal projects have been rejected by the government in recent years. Roger Falconer, emeritus professor of water and environmental engineering at Cardiff University explains “The problem with tidal lagoons and barrages is that you don’t get the power until they are virtually completed, and that can take years.”
These types of projects simply weren’t attractive before. But now several political powers around the world are realizing the increasing importance of energy security, particularly in response to recent oil and gas shortages, which might mean new opportunities for long-overlooked energy sources such as tidal power.
At present, “The UK is a global leader in tidal power, to the extent that almost 50% of the world’s installed tidal stream capacity is in UK waters,” stated a spokesperson for the Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy. This is because the west coast of the U.K. has one of the highest tidal ranges worldwide.
Meanwhile, in Canada, energy firms are suggesting that new tidal technologies could be significantly better than solar developments due to their efficiency and reliability. Montreal-based energy firm Idenergie is introducing a new type of tidal turbine that, it says, will not disrupt the marine life in the region and can provide continuous power throughout the day and night. The firm believes that one turbine can provide the same energy as 12 solar panels. In addition, the turbine can be transported easily in several parts and constructed on-site. Idenergie says it can provide up to 12kWh of power a day and connects to a battery grid.
On a bigger scale, Canada is preparing to launch a major tidal energy project in Nova Scotia, which will connect through a 1km undersea cable to the grid system. Sustainable Marine CEO Jason Hayman explains of the project, “These waters are a huge, untapped, completely renewable and predictable source of energy, which is driven by the moon as it orbits our planet. The unique geometry of the Bay of Fundy turns this gravitational force into vast tidal streams that flow at speeds of up to 10 knots. It’s taken many years of testing, development and demonstration to refine the technology and understand how best to capture and convert tidal energy. But the moment has now arrived. Sustainable Marine’s next-gen platform is grid-connected and set to energize.”
And for islands, tidal power has huge potential, with experts suggesting sites like the Faroe Islands, an archipelago off of Denmark, could get 40 percent of their power from tidal developments. Tidal energy firm Minesto recently announced plans for four sites, which could achieve a total capacity of 120 MW of tidal energy, around 350 GWh a year.
CEO of Minesto Martin Edlund said, “as we’re in the forefront of creating a completely new industry, where we intend to add predictable tidal energy to the global energy mix, we’re thrilled to support the Faroe Islands in their explorative and ambitious journey towards a balanced energy system”. Although the tiny island requires much less energy than most countries, the project could demonstrate how other locations can harness the power of the ocean to deliver clean and reliable energy.
Governments are often reluctant to consider tidal projects due to the lack of understanding of the energy source. Huge investments need to be made in research and site testing to fully understand the potential of tidal power. But as global powers realize the need for longer-term renewable alternatives to oil and gas, and become more willing to consider innovative energy sources, there is a huge potential for tidal power and several other much-overlooked sources.
By Felicity Bradstock for Oilprice.com
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