Thanks to recent advancements in technology, tidal power is starting to gain recognition as one of the future's most promising forms of renewable energy. With the bulk of the world's population living on ocean seaboards or close to flowing water, the World Energy Council estimates that harnessing the kinetic energy of oceans and rivers could supply the world's electricity demand twice over.
Unlike wind and solar, tides are predictable, dependable and powerful. The gravitational pull of the sun and moon regulating the ocean's currents works like clockwork. According to PikeResearch, water is 800 times more energy dense than wind and marine technologies have two to three times the capacity factor of solar. Though all forms of renewable energy have a place in the global energy mix, those that are dependent on weather conditions won't be enough to compete with more reliable fossil-fueled sources of power.
“The whole global economy is based around reliable, continuous power,” says Elemental Energy Technologies' (EET) Chairman, Mr Kim Lyle. “Energy sectors that are dependent on the weather are very unpredictable and difficult to integrate into the electrical systems being used around the world today.”
EET recently won the UGL Award for Innovation in Sustainable Engineering and Excellence at Australia's annual Engineering Excellence Awards for its revolutionary underwater turbine design, the SeaUrchin ™. A breakthrough in tidal/ocean current energy, the SeaUrchin brings new hope to a market with the potential to compete directly with base load coal and nuclear power generation. Designed to exploit the underlying principle and raw power of an ocean whirlpool, the technology harnesses up to four times more power and is up to 70 percent more efficient than conventionally used propeller models on the market—not to mention, about half the price.
The real breakthrough, however, is in the design. After years of research and development with some of the top experts in the field from around the world, EET came up with a turbine that is scalable, easy to transport and commercially viable. The composite materials used to construct the device, manufactured from RPC Technologies, have a life of 100 years in salt water and hold a competitive advantage to other commonly used metals.
“Composites, in our view, are a superior material to work with when talking about deploying things in the ocean,” says Lyle. “We used a material that can be molded to any shape, which gave us much more flexibility in developing an exotic design.”
Growth in offshore wind has already demonstrated that despite the unforgiving marine environment, energy can be harvested offshore. Yet, the same sized turbines used to capture wind can generate up to eight times more power from ocean currents, tides and rivers. SeaUrchins are also more compact than wind turbines, making them easier to transport and set up—minus the visual and noise pollution that comes with hillside wind farms.
Scalable from 300W to 1MW in size, the device is deployable in the largest range of ocean and river locations around the world. One large SeaUrchin turbine can produce enough energy to power 1,000 homes.
“That's another one of our advantages,” says Lyle. “We can put multiple small units to aggregate to a large number, giving us much more flexibility to deploy the technology to a lot more locations.”
Over the next couple years, Tenax Energy will test the technology in a university-monitored pilot plant, feeding electricity into Australia's Darwin, Northern Territory grid. If all goes well, the device will likely be employed for a proposed 450MW project. The commercialization from there is limitless.
One thing is clear: tidal power is one of the largest and reliable forms of renewable energy suitable for integration into base load grid systems, yet one of the most untapped. Technology is changing that, giving way to a whole new industry we're about to see become a huge part of the renewable market in the very near future.