The Future of Tidal Power
According to the 2007 Survey of Energy Resources made by the World Energy Council, the high costs of tidal barrage systems make development unlikely on any large scale in the near future. The Council does, however, foresee the incorporation of tidal stream systems into existing rail and road infrastructure as a method of maximizing economic benefit while reducing environmental impact. Despite the economic restrictions, several governments are revisiting the idea of tidal power as a greener alternative to fossil fuel and nuclear power generation schemes.
Tidal barrage systems are likely to be less utilized due to cost and environmental impact, both of which were mentioned above. Systems like dynamic tidal power, tidal stream generation, and other new technologies will probably be utilized as energy needs increase and fossil fuel use becomes less desirable. One example of an alternative system is the tidal kite, which uses complex computer algorithms to steer a large kite through tidal streams and ocean currents. This system has a very limited environmental impact and, being modular, is less costly to install.
The Rance tidal power plant in France was the first functioning commercial-scale tidal power plant in the world. It has been in continuous operation for nearly 40 years and has been successful enough to have the French considering further projects. Environmental impact from the plant has been substantial, so further building is only likely to take place if these impacts can be mitigated.
The UK has embraced tidal power on several fronts, most notably in Ireland, where a 1.2 MW system became operational in 2008. There are estimates that the UK could produce over 120 gigawatts of energy using tidal forces. Environmental concerns are under consideration.
South Korea has plans to build 1.32 GW of tidal barrage capacity starting in 2017. This will add to the country’s 254 megawatt plant on Sihwa Lake, which is the largest tidal power installation in the world. A third plant, of the barrage type, that will generate 812 megawatts is being planned for the Ganghwa Island for 2015.
Canada has more readily embraced tidal power than has the United States, in part because their needs are smaller and more adequately met by tidal power. In the U.S., tidal power can only ever meet a small percentage of energy needs and so projects are often scuttled before leaving the drawing board because their limited energy impact pales in comparison to their environmental impact. A limited installation for testing purposes was built in Cobscook Bay in Maine in 2012. The first commercial-scale tidal plant in North America was built on Southern Vancouver Island in 2006. There are plans to add to this development with a generator in Nova Scotia.