Tidal energy: UK leads the way

Paul Boughton

The growing emphasis on renewable and carbon neutral energy generation has pushed tidal energy into the spotlight. Tidal energy being more reliable than wave energy has a few operational plants with substantial capacity  across the globe. New, experimental concepts such as dynamic tidal power, which enable production even in low-tide regions, possess the potential to disrupt existing technologies and make tidal power a key energy resource.

New analysis from Frost & Sullivan, Tidal Energy: Current Status and Future Outlook, finds that the United Kingdom is the front-runner in the development of newer tidal energy solutions buoyed by an ideal tidal pattern and a supportive regulatory scenario. Canada, China and South Korea are also showing steady progress. The United States is one of the top innovators.

“The success of smaller demonstration plants will propel the immediate adoption of tidal stream and tidal barrage technologies,” says Technical Insights Research Analyst Lekshmy Ravi. “The deployment of hybrid energy systems consisting of a combination of tidal and offshore wind energy seems probable in the long term.”

Although the basic technology of tidal energy is similar to that of wind turbines, the harsh conditions of the ocean multiply the issues faced during operation. Hence, parameters such as material strength, performance, maintenance and lifespan of tidal converters are aspects that research and development (R&D) efforts must address. Low capacity factor and high costs are further drawbacks.

The setting up of R&D centres and funding institutions dedicated to the cause of tidal energy generation will be crucial to speed up advancements. For example, the Fundy Ocean Research Centre for Energy (FORCE) is a main driver for the progress of in-stream tidal energy in Canada.

“Stakeholders must build a coordinated, multi-disciplinary strategy for tidal power to continue creating ripples in the renewable energy sector,” urges Ravi. “A concerted approach by regulatory agencies, technology developers, funding bodies and infrastructure firms will open the floodgates of development and give rise to tidal energy solutions with significant industrial and societal value.”