May 14 2013

Tidal Wave Energy: Is it Ecologically Sustainable?

Global energy demand continues to grow and tidal wave energy generation devices can provide a significant source of renewable energy. Technological developments in offshore engineering, and the rising cost of traditional energy, means that offshore energy resources will be economic in the next few years.

Tidal wave 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, as there can be bigger variances in the amount and levels of sunlight and wind.

This is an image of the Carlingford Lough tidal wave scheme in County Down, Northern Ireland. As you can see the span of the turbines is vast.

This is an image of the Carlingford Lough tidal wave scheme in County Down, Northern Ireland. As you can see the span of the turbines is vast.

However these tidal barrages have the potential to cause significant ecological impacts, particularly on bird feeding areas, when they are constructed at coastal estuaries or bays. Offshore tidal stream energy and wave energy collectors offer the scope for developments at varying scales. They also have the potential to alter habitats.

The world needs sources of energy that have low carbon demands, and wet renewables represent a significant resource. All renewable energy systems impose changes to the environment which need to be balanced against the potential to deliver very significant quantities of low carbon energy. Barrages and tidal fences require coastal locations with particular environmental conditions which can prove a big setback in terms of gaining permission to develop them.

Should the coastal landscape of Northern Ireland be at risk to support such developments as the tidal wave scheme

Should the coastal landscape of Northern Ireland be at risk to support such developments as the tidal wave scheme?

A “fully developed” all-Ireland ocean energy sector could be worth about €9 billion and fuel the home and global market by 2030, says a report commissioned by the Government’s Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland and Invest Northern Ireland. Currently the marine renewables industry is known to be frustrated by the lack of sufficient Government commitment to the sector, and fears that this could drive away interested international investors.

Do you believe tidal wave energy represents a viable source of renewable energy? Do the potential negative impacts on the environment and landscape provide too big a barrier to overcome? Should governments be pushing this type of development?

Credits: Photographs by Finbar Gillen. Data linked to sources.

Finbar Gillen

I am currently in final year studying Environmental Planning in Queen's University Belfast, and I am considering doing a related masters course, I am also undertaking some voluntary placement in Johns, Cassidy & Co. Omagh, County Tyrone. I hope this will be some sort of stepping stone when searching for work in the years to follow

This entry was posted on Tuesday, May 14th, 2013 at 9:49 am and is filed under Architecture, Community/Economic Development, Energy, Engineering, Environment, Environmental Design, Environmental Non-Profit, Government/Politics, Land Use. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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One Response to “Tidal Wave Energy: Is it Ecologically Sustainable?”

  1. Albert Rogers Says:

    Dear Finbar,
    I too was a student at Queens, late 1950′s, studying Physics and Applied Maths. I was, and still am, convinced that nuclear energy is the only reliable and sustainable replacement energy for fossil carbon – let’s not forget the fossil oxygen needed to burn it.
    Amazingly, the problems of meltdown, nuclear waste, and scaccity of fissile isotopes, were all solved by the USA’s Integral Fast Reactor project, by actual test, about a week before Chernobyl, April 1986. The Clinton administration threw the solution away, in 1994. Yoiu can look it up, or visit my website.
    What the USA calls “nuclear waste” is actually not even “spent” fuel, but more accurately described as “slightly used”. If properly used for energy, its plutonium content is far more valuable than gold.
    I was employed by the US Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for 30 years. Just before I retired, many of my co-workers, and I, were frustrated by the Commission’s inability to intervene in the ransom-level pricing of gas turbine “spinning rserve” power in California, after a winter of inadequate snowfall in the Pacific Northwest mountains.
    In brief, the cost to an electric distribution grid of a slight inability to respond to an increase in demand is very high. If the load on different generators causes them to slow down by different amounts, the alternating voltage frequencies can go out of phase. You can end uo with simepushing while others are pulling. A hydro turbine being driven with less than its maximum flow rate of water can respond instantly. A gas turbine, spinning idle, can like wise respond by opening the throttle.
    It follows that there is a large cost if you have a high percentage of solar or wind driven energy, when clouds come up or the wind drops.

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