As part of its major renewable energy plans to tackle climate change, the U.S. government is investing heavily in the future of tidal power. Meanwhile, Europe is also funding the development of tidal energy technology to help advance the renewable energy sector. This initial funding period in research and development is expected to contribute to the widescale rollout of tidal energy projects worldwide within the next decade.
Tidal energy is produced in three principal ways. The first is tidal barrages, which use a dam-like structure that juts out into the ocean to create a tidal basin. Sluice gates on the barrage control water levels and flow rates, allowing the area to fill when the tide is high and empty into an electricity turbine system to produce energy. The second is tidal turbines, which use blades to turn a rotor that powers a generator. These can be installed on the sea floor in strong tidal waters, but this requires the equipment to be extremely heavy-duty. The third is tidal fences, which use vertical axis turbines mounted on a fence or on the seabed to allow water to pass through turbines and generate electricity.
The U.S. Department of Energy (DoE) stated that it would be providing $35 million, from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, for the advancement of tidal and river current energy systems. The DoE has identified major potential for the development of tidal and current energy production, which at present is largely underdeveloped. The funding is expected to be released in 2023, marking the “largest investment in tidal and river current energy technologies in the United States,” according to the DoE. The government has already released a notice of intent announcing the new funding opportunity.
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The sector will require greater research and development prior to the development of large-scale projects, due to underinvestment in the renewable energy source to date. However, the DoE is optimistic that tides and river currents will provide an excellent source of green energy for the U.S. The funding is expected to build upon the work of existing developments as well as help bring more projects online.
Awareness of the potential for tidal power development has been steadily growing in recent years, with notable projects being established across the U.S., Canada, the U.K. and India. In July 2021, “the world’s most powerful” tidal turbine became operational in U.K. waters, drawing attention to the sector. This year, a $5.18 million testing facility for turbine blades opened its doors, to enhance the development of tidal power technology.
Despite optimism around the funding, the DoE has highlighted several challenges that have so far prevented the widescale rollout of tidal and river current energy projects. It stated, “The U.S. tidal and river current energy industry requires long-term and substantial funding to move from testing devices one at a time to establishing a commercial site.” It added, “The complexity of installing devices and navigating permitting processes, combined with a lack of connection to local power grids, have proven to be a consistent barrier to advancing tidal and river current energy.”
As well as the U.S., the European Union is also steadily advancing its tidal power projects. In 2021, Europe installed 2.2 MW of tidal stream capacity, compared to 260 kW in 2020, according to Ocean Energy Europe. Further, 681 kW of wave energy was installed, marking a threefold increase. This was a significant contribution to the 1.38 MW of wave energy and 3.12 MW of tidal stream capacity installed worldwide. However, this figure remains significantly lower than other forms of renewable energy, with Europe installing 17.5 GW of wind energy and 25.9 GW of new solar PV capacity in 2021.
This month, Europe announced $19.3 million in funding for large-scale wave energy projects. WEDUSEA, a group of 14 partners from academia and industry, supported by funding from Innovate UK and the European Union’s Horizon Europe programme and coordinated by OceanEnergy, will lead the project over four years. In phase, WEDUSEA will focus on the design of the 1 MW OE35 – a piece of equipment developed by OceanEnergy and named “the world’s largest capacity floating wave energy device.”
The European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC) hopes to “create a technology deployment pathway for a 20 MW pilot farm.” Myles Heward, project manager at EMEC, explained “The innovative actions taken in this programme aim to improve the efficiency, reliability, scalability and sustainability of wave energy technology, and reduce the LCOE of the technology by over 30 percent.” He added, “This will help to de-risk investments in wave energy.”
Major funding in the research and development of tidal and river current energy technology is expected to lead to the wide-scale rollout of several renewable energy projects in both the U.S. and Europe. The initial funding period could provide the answers needed to establish tidal power projects in several locations worldwide within the next decade, contributing to the broader transition away from fossil fuels to green energy sources.
By Felicity Bradstock for Oilprice.com
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