Turning the Tide on Renewable Energy.

Photo by jaywood_uk | flickr.com

Tidal power has long been an option for renewable energy production. However, while tidal power has the potential to make sizable contributions to the energy grid and alleviate the pressure we put on non-renewable energy, it still remains relatively underutilized. Tidal power has a number of marked advantages over solar and wind power, including the ability to predict when tides are strongest. This allows power generation efforts to coincide with the tidal changes.  However, the high cost of developing tidal power technologies has historically been the largest hurdle in implementing it on a large scale. Such an investment would be a small price to pay to allow the large scale implementation of a completely renewable form of energy.

There are three primary methods of harnessing the tidal forces to produce electricity. The first, the tidal steam generator, makes use of the kinetic energy in the waves, similar to the way wind turbines are turned by the force of the wind. Secondly, the tidal barrage method produces energy through the strategic placement of specialized dams, which then funnel the water through turbines when sea levels return to low tide.  The third method, dynamic tidal power, involves harnessing the energy of the tides through extremely long dams that stretch from the coast out to sea, and utilizes the differences in tidal flow between the two sides.

Aside from the high costs, there are other potential drawbacks to the use of power generation equipment under the water’s surface. These may include the corrosion of the metal parts by the high salinity levels in seawater and the potential for mechanical fluids and lubricants to leak out, causing harm to nearby wildlife.

Tidal power generation has experienced its most recent success off the coast of Scotland as initial reports of a giant tidal turbine off the coast of Orkney have yielded positive results. Scottish Power Renewables recently released a statement saying that the 100ft high 1Megawatt Hammerfest Storm HS1000 device is performing well and already supplying power to homes and businesses on the nearby island of Eday.  The success of the initial turbine has paved the way for the technology and plans for a large 10 Megawatt array could move forward as early as 2013.

While Canada’s coastline shares a number of similarities with that of Scotland, tidal power has not been embraced to the same degree.  The government of Nova Scotia has big plans for this type of energy production, hoping to install a large scale 300 megawatt project off the coast in the Bay of Fundy. This, however, will not likely take place until well after the year 2020.  The main hurdle for the Canadian project remains cost. Yet while the initial investment required to create large scale tidal power generation in Canada is sizable, it will ultimately pale in comparison to the cost of the alternative, a continued wide scale use of fossil fuels.

Sebastian Miller