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Published on May 25th, 2014 | by James Ayre


Tidal Power — GE & Others Looking To Harness The Power Of The Moon

May 25th, 2014 by  

ge tidal power

Tidal power, or, to put it another way, the power of the moon, is certainly a powerful energy source. The tidal fluctuations caused by the movement of the massive body of the moon is worth tapping, right?

Many have of course tried — and are currently trying — but the effective utilization of the energy source has remained somewhat elusive. Currently, though, a number of interesting projects/approaches are being pursued by a number of different companies and/or governments — which seems to suggest a good future for the technology.

In particular, Scotland has been noted as possessing significant tidal resources that could meet up to 50% of its energy needs, according to recent research.

Mark Baker, a marine-energy business manager at GE Power Conversion, recently commented on the subject: “Some UK locations have significant tidal head ranges. They offer a tantalizing energy generation potential.”

GE Power Conversion is currently in the process of testing out new tidal turbine generators and “other underwater technology in turbines standing on the sea floor near the Orkneys in Scotland and at Ramsey Sound in Pembrokeshire, Wales.”

According to Baker, this testing process is going quite well and GE is now looking to scale up “to a large array of tidal turbines planned for the bottom of the Pentland Firth, a narrow channel that separates the Orkneys from the northern tip of Scotland.”

GE Reports provides a bit more information:

The turbines resemble large aircraft propellers submerged in 180 to 240 feet of water. They stand in strategic “pinch points” of the firth, where the tides rush in and out at the highest speeds.

Engineers can capture energy from the vertical and horizontal movements of the tides. Some teams have also used buoys that generate electricity from the up and down movement of the waves. But “it happens to be roughly an order of magnitude more difficult to mount and maintain equipment on the surface of the sea,” Baker says. “Companies have put in wave systems only to find them dashed upon the rocks.”

According to Baker, tidal power generation arrays will become much more common in the coming years, as the benefits of the technology are realized on a larger scale.

“Tidal lagoon power stations could soon also become a reality in the UK. They are capable of utility-scale power generation.”

It certainly seems that he is correct on that count — as recent/upcoming projects like 320 MW Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon Project have begun to show. The $1.2 billion project is currently set to begin construction in 2015, with a completion date likely to be sometime in 2018.

If the project is deemed successful, current plans are for the development of four more projects in other lagoons — which when all taken together would provide up to 10% of the UK’s domestic electricity needs. Probably a good idea considering that the UK is about to run out of fossil fuel reserves.

As far as related projects elsewhere in the world go — in the US, just last August the Energy Department announced over $16 million in funding for new ocean energy projects, something that is apparently already beginning to bear fruit.

As it stand currently, the US is underwriting the development of 17 different tidal and wave energy demonstration projects, with current estimates (from the DOE) being that there are up to 1,400 terawatt hours of potential tidal energy generation per year — enough to provide a very substantial portion of the country’s energy needs.

“Wave and tidal energy represent a large, untapped resource for the United States and responsible development of this clean, renewable energy source is an important part of our all-of-the-above energy strategy,” Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy David Danielson commented in a statements elevated last year.

EU’s effort to develop a purpose-designed generator for wave energy extraction — the MAGNETIDE Project — continues to move forward as well. The researchers working on the project recently revealed that they had reduced the total cost of the system while increasing the efficiency by up to 30%. Pretty big gains — which were made possible via the utilization of new Powder Injection Moulding technology.

The MAGNETIDE Project is scheduled to wrap up sometime next year, when the researchers should have the first prototypes of the new generators ready. These prototypes will then be tested in real-world locations, in areas with strong tidal currents.

Image Credit: GE

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About the Author

's background is predominantly in geopolitics and history, but he has an obsessive interest in pretty much everything. After an early life spent in the Imperial Free City of Dortmund, James followed the river Ruhr to Cofbuokheim, where he attended the University of Astnide. And where he also briefly considered entering the coal mining business. He currently writes for a living, on a broad variety of subjects, ranging from science, to politics, to military history, to renewable energy. You can follow his work on Google+.

  • JamesWimberley

    Tidal isn’t “somewhat elusive”. The tidal barrage on the Rance in Brittany was opened I think in 1966. It’s a bankable technology, constrained essentially by the shortage of suitable sites. Tidal must be carefully distinguished from wave, with greater potential but much harder to bring off. Both GE and Siemens have stakes in tidal, but have steered clear of wave.

    I’d like to hear the denialist objection to drawing power from tides, which can be predicted centuries in advance.

    • Michael Berndtson

      With the House just voting to force DoD to deny climate change in defence preparedness, the next vote will probably be to blow up the moon.

  • Matt

    Why so little action in flow turbine for rivers? In US the Mississippi and all its feeder, Amazon in SA, etc. Each has massive flow and environment is friendlier. Fresh not salt, one direction flow. One negative is there are more trees floating down river. I know most big cities are on the coast, but still.

    • LookingForward

      Unless the turbines are put on the bottom of rivers, but people might start b*tching about the dying fish, though usely local fish are strong enough to swim against local currents, so that shouldn’t be a problem.
      Maybe rivers aren’t deep enough to let boats go over the turbines? Dig trenges, might also be good for the rare mineral/metal industry in some places, like for gold, might be to expensive for either to dig a trenge, but working together, they could save each other money.

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