Day and night, all over the world, the force of the ocean can be seen and heard, pounding onto beaches and shores. The endless cycle of waves, currents and tides is driven by wind, the gravitational effects of the moon and the power of the sun.
Though still emerging, tidal power remains one of the great engineering challenges yet to be fully harnessed in the modern world, despite being put forward more than a century ago.
The ocean holds enormous quantities of potential energy that can be developed with very low greenhouse gases, and with decades of research conducted, the ability to tap into this source looks promising. This would see an almost limitless and dependable supply of clean energy, helping reduce our reliance on fossil fuels.
Tapping into the power of waves and tides to generate electricity would create a vibrant new energy sector, creating up to 420 000 jobs by 2050 and see economic growth for areas that are suffering from the decline of traditional maritime industries such as fisheries and the construction of ships.
It’s estimated that wave and tidal energy could meet 15% of the European electricity demand by 2050, whilst at the same time helping avoid 136 MT/MWh of CO2 emissions.
Global tidal resources
The first large-scale tidal project opened in La Rance in France in the 1960s, provides only a fraction of the energy delivered by its renewable counterparts – just 0.5GW compared with almost 400GW of wind power. However, the development of new technologies means the tidal industry could see a positive renewal.
Similar to the La Rance project, the Sihwa Lake tidal power station in Korea is a rich repository of tidal energy resources. This is the worlds largest operating tidal power station, producing 552.7 GWh of electricity per year – enough to support the domestic needs of a city with a population of 500,000.
According to the International Hydropower Association (IHA), the 552.7 GWh of electricity generated from Sihwa tidal power plant is equivalent to 862,000 barrels of oil, or 315,000 tons of CO2 – the amount produced by 100,000 cars produce annually.
The world’s first man-made tidal lagoon in Swansea Bay in Wales is currently awaiting planning permission. Former energy minister, Charles Hendry said his independent review of tidal power had concluded a small trial lagoon at Swansea Bay was a “no regrets option” that could open the way to at least five other full-scale projects around the UK.
The future of tides
The development of transformative technology takes time and money, but harnessing the power of the ocean has plenty of potential. In the UK, the Carbon Trust says wave and tidal power could meet 20% of the country’s total energy needs.
With other projects looking likely to take off in the UK, France, Canada and Korea in the coming years, the International Energy Agency (IEA) predicts global ocean power generation will double to 1GW by 2020.
A complicated ocean environment and high costs will continue to delay development, however once the industry overcomes these barriers, tidal and wave power will eventually make a significant contribution to global energy supply.
Image Credit: Financial Times