In the world of renewable energy, tidal power is one of the more abstract, obscured points of discussion. It’s not nearly as mechanically developed as hydro-power or biomass. And it certainly doesn’t demand the same sort of press as solar power or wind power.
For the time being, tidal power’s standing as a relative unknown is probably deserved. Other forms of renewable energy deserve the spotlight for what they’ve accomplished to this point. But that won’t necessarily be the case for much longer.
In light of a report published by the BBC earlier this year, tidal power has been severely underestimated. New analysis suggests that tidal power could in fact provide up to 20% of the United Kingdom’s power if gathered and employed efficiently. To boot, the publication mentions that newer technology and a fuller, more systematic understanding of estuaries and streams has put tidal power in a position to become one of the most reliable forms of renewable energy – notably more reliable than wind power.
But if wind is so fickle, and tides are so predictable, then you might be asking yourself why turbines are popping up in seemingly every empty patch of grass along the highway, but it’s rare you’ll see a tidal generator along the beach.
Historically, the problem hasn’t been the predictability of tides, but rather the predictability of tidal technology. When the seas get choppy, it’s tough to protect against infrastructural damage. In the last few years, however, companies such as Siemens have introduced heavier investment for creating sturdier, more stable generators. Last September, Ocean Renewable Power Co. put the finishing touches on a fortified system that collects tidal power from Cobscook Bay in Maine and transmits it to homes across the state through the regional grid. This marked the first time tidal power had been infused into a residentially-situated grid.
Truly, the future of tidal energy is tightly hinged to the costs involved. Right now, it’s difficult for tidal power to complete with the prices offered by traditional electric companies offering energy from traditional sources such as coal, oil and natural gas. That said, the future looks brighter than ever before. Costs are coming down thanks to scientists’ shift toward more efficient underwater turbines and revamped logistics. Plus, power generators are finding ways to preserve biodiversity by fashioning generators which can be placed farther out in the water and in locations that pose less of a risk to marine life.
Keep a close eye on the progress of tidal power. Thirty years from now, you’ll be happy you watched it blossom into what it’s become.
Mia Henderson is a sustainability specialist with TexasElectricityProviders.com.