Tidal Power

tidal power

Tidal power, also called tidal energy, is a form of hydropower that converts the energy of tides into useful forms of power – mainly electricity. Although not yet widely used, tidal power has potential for future electricity generation. Tides are more predictable than wind energy and solar power. Among sources of renewable energy, tidal power has traditionally suffered from relatively high cost and limited availability of sites with sufficiently high tidal ranges or flow velocities, thus constricting its total availability.

However, many recent technological developments and improvements, both in design (e.g. dynamic tidal power, tidal lagoons) and turbine technology (e.g. new axial turbines, cross flow turbines), indicate that the total availability of tidal power may be much higher than previously assumed, and that economic and environmental costs may be brought down to competitive levels.

Historically, tide mills have been used, both in Europe and on the Atlantic coast of North America. The incoming water was contained in large storage ponds, and as the tide went out, it turned waterwheels that used the mechanical power it produced to mill grain. The earliest occurrences date from the Middle Ages, or even from Roman times. It was only in the 19th century that the process of using falling water and spinning turbines to create electricity was introduced in the U.S. and Europe. The world’s first large-scale tidal power plant (the Rance Tidal Power Station in France) became operational in 1966.

Tidal power is extracted from the Earth’s oceanic tides; tidal forces are periodic variations in gravitational attraction exerted by celestial bodies. These forces create corresponding motions or currents in the world’s oceans. Due to the strong attraction to the oceans, a bulge in the water level is created, causing a temporary increase in sea level. When the sea level is raised, water from the middle of the ocean is forced to move toward the shorelines, creating a tide. This occurrence takes place in an unfailing manner, due to the consistent pattern of the moon’s orbit around the earth. The magnitude and character of this motion reflects the changing positions of the Moon and Sun relative to the Earth, the effects of Earth’s rotation, and local geography of the sea floor and coastlines.

Tidal power is the only technology that draws on energy inherent in the orbital characteristics of the Earth–Moon system, and to a lesser extent in the Earth–Sun system. Other natural energies exploited by human technology originate directly or indirectly with the Sun, including fossil fuel, conventional hydroelectric, wind, biofuel, wave, and solar energy. Nuclear energy makes use of Earth’s mineral deposits of fissionable elements, while geothermal power taps the Earth’s internal heat, which comes from a combination of residual heat from planetary accretion (about 20%) and heat produced through radioactive decay (80%).

A tidal generator converts the energy of tidal flows into electricity. Greater tidal variation and higher tidal current velocities can dramatically increase the potential of a site for tidal electricity generation. Because the Earth’s tides are ultimately due to gravitational interaction with the Moon and Sun and the Earth’s rotation, tidal power is practically inexhaustible and classified as a renewable energy resource. Movement of tides causes a loss of mechanical energy in the Earth–Moon system: this is a result of pumping of water through natural restrictions around coastlines and consequent viscous dissipation at the seabed and in turbulence. This loss of energy has caused the rotation of the Earth to slow in the 4.5 billion years since its formation. During the last 620 million years the period of rotation of the earth (length of a day) has increased from 21.9 hours to 24 hours; in this period the Earth has lost 17% of its rotational energy. While tidal power may take additional energy from the system, the effect is negligible and would only be noticed over millions of years.

Tidal stream generators (TSG) make use of the kinetic energy of moving water to power turbines, in a similar way to wind turbines that use wind to power turbines. Some tidal generators can be built into the structures of existing bridges, involving virtually no aesthetic problems. Likewise, ‘tidal bridging’ is a relatively new advancement that is gaining recognition as a more practical and beneficial way to generate tidal power. Blue Energy Canada is a company that is focused on building bridges to match today’s demands.

Tidal barrages make use of the potential energy in the difference in height (or head) between high and low tides. When using tidal barrages to generate power, the potential energy from a tide is seized through strategic placement of specialized dams. When the sea level rises and the tide begins to come in, the temporary increase in tidal power is channeled into a large basin behind the dam, holding a large amount of potential energy. With the receding tide, this energy is then converted into mechanical energy as the water is released through large turbines that create electrical power though the use of generators. Barrages are essentially dams across the full width of a tidal estuary.

Dynamic tidal power (DTP) is an untried but promising technology that would exploit an interaction between potential and kinetic energies in tidal flows. It proposes that very long dams (for example: 30–50 km length) be built from coasts straight out into the sea or ocean, without enclosing an area. Tidal phase differences are introduced across the dam, leading to a significant water-level differential in shallow coastal seas – featuring strong coast-parallel oscillating tidal currents such as found in the UK, China, and Korea.

Tidal power can have effects on marine life. The turbines can accidentally kill swimming sea life with the rotating blades. Some fish may no longer utilize the area if they were threatened with a constant rotating object. Also, salt water causes corrosion in metal parts. It can be difficult to maintain tidal stream generators due to their size and depth in the water. Mechanical fluids, such as lubricants, can leak out, which may be harmful to the marine life nearby. Proper maintenance can minimize the amount of harmful chemicals that may enter the environment.

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