Tidal Power a Subsurface, Green Alternative to Fossil Fuels

by Carter Palmer, Power Systems Specialist, Forecast International.

Greener solutions to energy needs are always in high demand for countries looking to reduce their carbon footprint. Wind and solar power have cemented their place in the renewable energy sphere; however, another option is slowly gaining traction. Although the technology is in its early development, tidal turbines are seen as a possible contender in the race to find greener energy. MeyGen, a Scottish project scheduled to come on line later this year, is one example of this new technology at work.

Tides are formed by the gravitational pull of the sun and moon on the Earth. The predictability of tides (predictability is an important term in renewable energy circles) is a major advantage. While wind and solar power are dependent on the weather and sunlight, the tides – despite having lulls throughout the day – are consistent, lending themselves well to power production.

Using tides for power is not a new idea – mills powered by tidal pools date back to the Middle Ages. Electricity production based on tidal movements is a more recent development. The first power station to use tides was the Rance Tidal Power Station in Brittany, France, in 1966. Based upon the use of a barrage (a dam-like structure), high tide water is held back and released at low tide to spin turbines and generate electricity. Although very green, the barrage system takes up a lot of real estate and can affect local wildlife. Going deeper may be the answer.

Tidal turbines are very similar in operation and appearance to their wind-powered cousins. Despite the similarities, there are some major differences in their use, as well as their impact on the surrounding environment. Anchored on the ocean floor, these turbines cannot be seen or heard. The fields themselves are smaller than wind farms, as tidal turbines can be placed closer together. They pose no obstacle to shipping traffic, and although studies are still being conducted, the turbines seem to cause little environmental impact.

MeyGen is one of only a few projects in the world to utilize this promising energy source. Located between the northernmost part of the Scottish mainland and the island of Stroma, the project is focused in an area that has long been known for strong tidal currents. With a maximum speed of 5 meters per second, the current is indeed strong, making it ideal for the implementation of tidal turbines. In the project’s initial phase, four turbines will be installed: three developed by Andritz Hydro Hammerfest and one by Lockheed Martin’s Atlantis. Each of the turbines is rated to produce 1.5 MW of power and has a design life of 25 years.

The project is in its early “1a” phase and will be scaled up to Phase 1 with the installation of a maximum 86 turbines. The installation of four turbines later this year, in October, will make for the world’s first multi-turbine system. The future of tidal turbines depends on the success of early projects such as MeyGen, and will hopefully be proven successful with little environmental fallout.

Forecast International produces two distinct Power Systems products. The Aviation Gas Turbine Forecast presents the 10-year outlook for aviation turbofan, turboprop and turboshaft engines and more. The Industrial & Marine Turbine Forecast covers the markets for gas and steam turbines, mechanical drive engines, and marine power, among others.Forecast FI Logo

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