What is Tidal Power?
Tidal power is a form of renewable energy that converts that natural ebb and flow of the Earth’s tides into electricity. Consider that the Earth’s tidal patterns are fairly regular, given normal weather. It would not be difficult to determine the locations most appropriate for the production of this type of tidal power. In fact, the work has already begun.
Extreme weather is a risk, especially in regions of the world where monsoons and hurricanes are prevalent, but given the proper use of science, the machines that harness tidal power can be designed to withstand such storms at extremely high tolerances. This source of energy, though not in wide use yet, has the potential to produce seemingly boundless amounts of potential energy. As long as there is water on Earth, and the Earth’s gravity continues to compete with that of the Sun and the Moon, there will be limitless tidal power available for human consumption.
The Importance of Harnessing Tidal Power
Human beings have always had a fascination with tidal energy. In the past, people relied heavily upon the tides to chart sea routes and to know when and where to sail. It also helped inform them where the best spots for new trading ports were located. Presently, the energy produced by the Earth’s natural tides can be harnessed to produce massive amounts of electrical power. When scaled with human existence and life spans, tidal power can be safely considered a perpetual source of electrical energy.
Tidal power occurs because of the gravitational interactions between the moon, the sun, and the earth. These interactions will never subside in the millions of years to come. In other words, we can apply specially crafted water turbines, and other machines, in order to harness tidal energy for an infinite amount of electrical power.
There are certain regions around the world where tidal energy is the most intense and others where activity is lower. Both types of locations can be harvested, but the high action areas will produce the most energy. Researchers are busy advocating with companies to install various kinds of water turbines, and other machines, which will effectively help generate electrical power in a sustainable manner. One of the marked advantages of applying tidal energy is the fact that one can access it without causing any amount of pollution, though with some machines, physical damage may occur. If properly managed, tidal power plants have the potential to revolutionize how humanity produces electrical energy.
How Does a Tidal Power Generator Work?
Tidal energy is energy obtained from changing sea levels. There are three main ways to harness tidal power – via Tidal Turbines, as pictured above, Tidal Barrages, and Tidal Lagoons. Tidal turbines use technology similar to wind turbines, although their blades are much shorter and several times stronger. A good way to think of them is as underwater windmills. The water currents turn the turbines, which in turn activate a generator that produces electricity. These systems work best where there are very strong tidal zones, for example on major coastlines. This technology is still in its infancy, but it shows great promise. The upfront cost of these tidal stream systems is very high, and installation and maintenance can both be difficult. However, in time, when combined with their next to zero impact on the environment, investment in these turbines will pay off. Essentially, millions of extra dollars will be saved instead of wasted on clearing up oil spills or lake water contamination.
Tidal barrages are very similar to the dams in hydroelectric plants, except that they are much larger, as they are built across the entire breadth of an estuary or bay. The tidal range, or the difference between high and low tide, needs to be in excess of five meters for the barrage to be workable. As the tide comes in, water flows through the dam and into the basin. Then, when the tide stops, the gates are closed, which traps the water. As the tide goes out, the gates in the dam which contain turbines are then opened and flowing water passes through the turbines, generating electrical energy. There are a few caveats to this method of power generation. Tidal barrages have very high infrastructure costs and are very damaging to the local environment. There is a lot underwater digging and the construction of new barriers that may disrupt the local wildlife’s natural cycle. Construction of such facilities can also take several years to complete. A good example of this is the La Rance barrage in France, which took over five years to build. To date, the La Rance barrage is the largest tidal power station in the world.
Tidal Lagoons are similar to barrages but are more affordable and less likely to damage the local environment when they are installed. They are self-contained structures cut off from the rest of the sea. They work in pretty much the same way as tidal barrages, as when the tide rises the lagoon fills with water, and when it falls the water is released through the turbines, producing electricity. The map above shows the Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon, off the southern coast of Wales, United Kingdom. It is still under construction, but it is expected to be completed and in production by 2019. It is part of a larger effort in the United Kingdom to completely eliminate that nation’s dependence on fossil fuels.
How Much Potential Energy Can Tidal Power Produce?
In the United Kingdom alone, which has a total of eight sites suitable for this type of energy production, tidal power has the potential to provide for twenty percent of that nation’s total energy needs. This could potentially power a total of fifteen million homes. It could aldo create as many as sixteen thousand new jobs, and reduce the United Kingdom’s carbon production by nearly seventy million tons. While estimates of tidal power’s global potential may vary, it is widely agreed that this type of energy production could exceed 120 GW of electricity annually. Wow!
Furthermore, this will only improve as the technology improves and more locations are made suitable for the technology’s use. As of right now, there are only nineteen countries around the world that have suitable sites for this technology, the United Kingdom, France, Canada, the United States, Mexico, Panama, Chile, Argentina, Brazil, India, Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, North Korea, South Korea, Japan, China and Russia. With improvements to the technology, sites in several more countries could be made suitable for this type of energy production within just a few short years.