Marine resources — tidal, wave and ocean thermal — are ripe for providing massive amounts of energy to coastal communities. But the technologies are still budding, preventing companies from realizing that available potential.
The International Energy Agency estimates that marine resources could feasibly provide 20,000 TWh of electricity each year. That’s more than today’s entire global generation portfolio. But the engineering challenges for technology developers are immense. Getting pieces of equipment to survive for long periods of time in the harshest environments in the world is no easy task. That’s why there are only a few hundred megawatts of projects installed around the world — with many of those devices facing long periods of downtime.
There are signs, however, that the tidal industry is moving closer to an “industry” rather than simply a place for experimentation. Earlier this summer, the French nuclear giant Alstom entered the space, purchasing a 40% stake in Scottish developer AWS Ocean Energy. This month, Siemens increased its investment in the UK tidal energy developer Marine Current Turbines. And last month, a tidal turbine developed by Rolls Royce became the first in Scotland to generate 100 Megawatt-hours of electricity without being brought up for maintenance.
These all followed the announcement from another tidal developer, OpenHydro, that it was proceeding with an 8 MW capacity tidal plant in France using its open-faced turbine.
(Some publications like Wired have wrongly called this the largest tidal project in the world. It’s actually the third largest project. The largest is in South Korea, and the second-largest is also in France. But the OpenHydro design is much different the traditional tidal barrage design, a type of power plant that can cause very negative impacts to the surrounding ecosystem.) This latest project is being deployed with the large European utility EDF.
Taken together, these recent developments suggest slow-but-continued progress in the space. The entrance of more industrial powerhouses like Siemens, Alstom and EDF may help solve the engineering challenges project developers still face.
For a look at OpenHydro’s turbine design, check out the video below.