Tidal power is a highly promising source of energy for several reasons. To begin with, water is 1,000 times as dense as air – which means there is 1,000 times more potential energy to be gathered from the movement of the ocean than there is from the wind. Tides are also highly predictable: while we can’t always determine when exactly the sun will shine or the wind will blow, we know that the moon’s gravity controls the tide and that it will always come in and out when we think it will.
Of course, there’s nearly always a gap between potential and reality, as my defunct athletic career can attest. In practice, its hard to build utility-scale tidal turbines that will produce a sufficient amount of energy to make the idea worthwhile AND then get that energy back to the onshore electric transmission grid. Doable, but hard. In order to make tidal power work, there will need to be a sufficient amount of financial and regulatory commitment to making it happen.
This commitment is beginning to emerge in the United States, where a handful of companies have attracted investors, developed their own technology, and are prepared to show just how viable an energy source the tides can be. Turns out they might want to look across the pond for inspiration, where German manufacturing company Siemens has gotten behind a UK company’s plan to place several 2 megawatt tidal installations in strategic locations along the British coast.
Nobody is going to pretend that tidal will overtake fossil fuels, or even solar and wind, any time soon. But if the US and world are going to make a serious commitment to renewable energy, it’s going to take a plethora of technologies that take advantage of local resources to the extent that they are available. Just as there are sunny places, and windy places, there are places all over our country where tides are unbelievably strong, like Maine’s Bay of Fundy, where water flows in and out every day with the force of 8 locomotives and a tidal range of up to 50 feet. There communities have a clean, powerful, and predictable source of energy sitting right off their coasts.
Tidal power may not have arrived yet, but the groundwork is being laid. With a proper investment of research and resources, tidal could be an extremely valuable addition to the renewable energy portfolio moving forward.