Tidal Power


A recent report from the US Energy Information Administration on energy production shows that wind and solar, despite receiving tens of billions in government subsidies, provided only 3.2% of the country’s total energy in 2016. The EIA data revealed that fossil fuels, nuclear and hydro provided more than 90% of 2016 US energy production with rising petroleum and natural gas use while coal use is declining. Fossil fuels have provided more than 80% of total US. energy consumption for more than 100 years. Since 1928, when consumption of natural gas surpassed that of biomass, the three fossil fuels—petroleum, natural gas, and coal—have been the most consumed fuels in the nation. In 2016, fossil fuels accounted for 81% of total US energy consumption, the lowest fossil fuel share in the past century.

Marine Power Systems reports wave energy has the potential to contribute 10% of global electricity demand by 2050.  The study provides an analysis of the economic and environmental potential that wave power offers both the United Kingdom and for the rest of the world. Wave energy is obtained by harnessing the power of ocean waves. Waves are a constant source of energy due to the gravitational force of the Earth, Sun, and Moon. Marine Power Systems finds total wave resources across the globe amount to around 80,000 terrawatt-hours (TWh) per year, but 4,000 TWh is economically exploitable. Ocean Energy Europe has predicted that a total of 337 gigawatts (GW) worth of marine power could be sourced by 2050, with a market value around £76 billion ($97 billion). The report highlights the fact that 45% of wave energy companies are currently based in the European Union (including the UK), and with adequate financial and government policy support over the coming decades, Europe could exploit an annual market in the range of €53 billion ($60 billion). Dr Gareth Stockman, Managing Director of Marine Power Systems said:  

“The world is rapidly transitioning to a low carbon future. Our vision is for wave power to provide 10% of the world’s electricity by 2050. With stable government policy, steady investment and joined up communications from industry partners, the wave energy industry can become an economic success story, following in the footsteps of more mature renewable technologies such as wind and solar to become a source of reliable, affordable, clean energy.”

P&S Market Research says the wave and tidal energy market is expected to grow at a significant rate in the coming years due to substantial cost reduction opportunities through capacity up-scaling and technological innovations. Since wave and tidal energy are renewable forms of energy, almost all countries around the world are trying to develop wave and tidal energy because they provide a constant and steady source of energy. According to the UK’s Department of Energy and Climate Change, wave and tidal energy combined has a potential to distribute approximately 20% of the electricity needs in the UK.  Wave and tidal energy technology development is in its initial phase, so there is a sufficient scope for new entrants in the wave and tidal energy market by introducing advanced technologies. Wave energy is transport of energy by ocean surface waves and uses that energy for water desalination, electricity generation, and pumping of water. Tidal energy is a type of hydropower that converts the energy from the tides to generate electricity.

Scotland has approved a tidal energy project. The West Islay Tidal Energy Park off the south-west Scotland will contain 30 turbines with an electricity generating capacity of up to 30 megawatts. This is sufficient to power around 18,000 homes.  The park is located 6 kilometers off the south-west coast of Islay.

Tidal power generation plants currently operate in several countries. The five largest projects either in operation or in the final pre-production stages are located in South Korea, France, Scotland, Wales and the Canadian province of Nova Scotia. Combined, the plants could generate in excess of 840 megawatts of electricity, enough to power over eight million homes. For more on the potential future of tidal power see Not to be Left in the Wake: Harnessing Tidal Power.

While many are very optimistic about tidal power, Clean Technica is not so sure. Tidal energy might in some future only provide up to 1% of total global energy demand. Each project raises the same questions. How much electricity will it actually generate? At what price per kilowatt-hour? And will it actually be a low-carbon source of electricity given all of the construction materials? The tide goes in and out daily but the generators is not always be running.  What about undue failures or maintenance. Both of those are unlikely to be true given the harsh marine environment. Sea water and seaweed is hard on human-made things. Tidal projects tend to be mega projects. By definition, mega projects are much more likely to go over schedule and budget and hence drive up predicted costs. The analyst looks at the 320 megawatt Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon project in the UK to assess whether the tidal hype is for real.

Investment banker Morgan Stanley estimates that renewable energy will be the cheapest source of electric power in the world in less than three years. The bank said:

“Numerous key markets recently reached an inflection point where renewables have become the cheapest form of new power generation. A dynamic we see spreading to nearly every country we cover by 2020. The price of solar panels has fallen 50% in less than two years. Moreover,  the ability to lower customer bills from utilizing low-cost renewables can improve an electric utility’s’ regulatory environment and provide related investment opportunities in grid modernization initiatives and risk-adjusted returns.”

Thanks to the growth is US natural gas production, chemical companies in the US now use ethane—a natural gas liquid derived from shale gas—as a feedstock. Abundant and cheap, shale gas and ethane are now feeding the next US chemical revolution, with 294 new projects in the chemical industry that were completed, started, or planned as of March 2017.



with h/t Fred and Tom Whipple

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