Tidal Turbines - A novel clean energy source

The Conversation

Nov 30, 2021

New research proposes that tidal turbines could handle a sizable 11% of the UK's energy needs.

All over the world, government policies and economics have prompted electric utilities to move from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources. However, most of these sources like wind and solar energy suffer from unreliability as they are inconsistent and unpredictable.

In August and September 2021, calm weather caused wind energy generation to drop 60% below the seasonal average. Planned and unplanned outages of nuclear power plus high demand for natural gas compounded the problem, resulting in network operators restarting coal power stations and energy companies raising prices. In the UK, annual electricity demand is projected to rise to more than double by 2050. A hitherto untapped avenue for energy production is now being explored – Tidal energy.

New research proposes that tidal turbines could handle a sizable 11% of the UK's energy needs. The UK has two high and two low tides per day caused by the gravitational forces of the sun and moon and owing to the rotation of the earth. Tidal turbines are designed to work in a fashion similar to wind turbines and can be installed either on the ocean floor or a floating structure. The single greatest advantage of tidal energy is its predictability and hence reliability, unlike wind or solar power. This translates to greater ease of targeting energy supply and demand and planning for outages. While having tremendous potential, the most significant challenge in employing tidal turbines for harnessing energy would be the cost.

Wind and solar power installations saw cost reductions with time and widespread usage and the same could very well be the case for tidal turbines. Recently, an immensely powerful tidal turbine installed in Orkney, north of Scotland has already commenced power generation to the grid.

Since tidal energy and a few other clean energy initiatives are still in the nascent stage, optimizing coal-based power generation is paramount in the current scenario.

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