Europe leading tidal development, but US and Asia catching up

New analysis from market research and analysis firm Frost & Sullivan finds that the UK remains the front-runner in the development of newer tidal energy solutions, buoyed by good tidal resources and a supportive regulatory scenario.

According to Frost, tidal energy is currently more reliable than wave energy and has a few operational plants with substantial capacity across the globe. Growing emphasis on renewable and carbon neutral energy generation has pushed tidal energy further into the spotlight. But the report also emphasises that although the basic technology of tidal energy is similar to wind power, parameters such as material strength, performance, maintenance and lifespan of tidal converters are aspects that research and development (R&D) efforts must address in order to withstand operations in the harsh marine environment. Low capacity factor and high costs are further drawbacks.

The report, ‘Tidal Energy: Current Status and Future’ concludes that while Europe leads, Canada, China and South Korea are also showing steady progress, whilst the United States is one of the top innovators. In addition, Frost also points to emerging concepts, such as dynamic tidal power, which enable production even in low-tide regions and that possess the potential to disrupt existing technologies and make tidal power a key energy resource.

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

Indeed, FORCE is currently completing final testing of two advanced underwater monitoring platforms ahead of sea trials in the Bay of Fundy. The Fundy Advanced Sensor Technology (FAST) platforms are recoverable instrument platforms designed to monitor and characterize the FORCE site.

Tony Wright, FORCE general manager, explains: “To harness the enormous power of the Bay of Fundy responsibly, we have to understand it. We’ve built two subsea instrument platforms that will give us a clearer, moment-by-moment picture of what’s happening under the water.”

In a similar move to characterise water bodies for use by tidal energy, the TiME (Turbulence in Marine Environments) research aimed at the development of industry guidance on tidal turbulence, is nearing completion following turbulence measurement surveys in waters of the Sound of Islay and the Inner Sound, in Pentland Firth, Scotland.

Sam Athey, a Director and co-owner at project leaders Partrac, said the project “will provide a framework for the tidal industry to measure, classify and analyse turbulence for commercial tidal arrays.”

Commenting on his company analysis, Frost’s Lekshmy Ravi says: “The success of smaller demonstration plants will propel the immediate adoption of tidal stream and tidal barrage technologies. The deployment of hybrid energy systems consisting of a combination of tidal and offshore wind energy seems probable in the long term.”

Ravi adds: “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.”

A coordinated strategy for tidal power is clearly required if tidal stream energy to become truly disruptive, and a key part of that challenge is the understanding and characterisation of the energy flows and turbulence within specific high energy marine environments. These new projects in Canada and Scotland are indicative that an acceleration of tidal stream energy is very much in evidence.

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