Advantages and Disadvantages of Tidal Energy

Len Burgess[1]

Len Burgess

Money Savings Advice Advantages & disadvantages of tidal energy

Tidal energy is clean, sustainable and renewable. Though individual homeowners can’t take advantage, on a large scale, the power generated from tidal energy could replace our need for fossil fuels. This is good for the planet and your pocket.

For as long as planet Earth exists, there will be tides and waves in the ocean. We can harness the power of the moving water, using it to meet our energy needs. Tidal energy is sustainable, consistent and always available.

It never runs out, and we can take advantage with limited damage to the planet or natural environments.

Keep reading to learn more about the advantages and disadvantages of tidal energy.

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What is tidal energy?

With a tidal energy system, humans can convert the movement of water into usable power. As the tides go in and out, and the waves ebb and flow, the movement can cause underwater rotors and turbines to spin. This kinetic energy can be transformed into another form of power. It’s usually used to generate electricity, powering our towns and cities.

Tidal energy is renewable. The tide doesn’t run out, so it’ll always exist to keep generating power for consumption.

Today, tidal energy is still considered to be something of an untapped resource. The technology to harness it is relatively new and uptake has been on the slow side. Though there are a great many benefits, very few countries are maximising the potential of the tides along their shores.

As renewable energy becomes increasingly popular, and the world moves away from its dependency on fossil fuels, tidal energy is one resource that may become increasingly valuable.

Tidal Energy in the UK

The UK is viewed as one of the potential leaders in the world of tidal energy, thanks to our excellent marine resources and our expertise in other forms of energy. It’s estimated that we could potentially generate up to 20% of our electricity from tidal streams, with the Renewable Energy Roadmap aiming to get us close to that figure by 2050.

However, it has been acknowledged that a lot of work and research is still needed and that these early figures are speculative. Yet tidal power could become a major part of our energy production.

Advantages of Tidal Energy

Tidal energy is a green form of energy. It’s relatively non-polluting, is sustainable and constantly available.

Where other forms of renewable energy require space on the rolling green countryside hills or require us to dig up the land, the chances are that you have no idea where tidal energy is being sourced. Turbines deep underwater, often as far as 240ft below the waves, aren’t visible from the water’s edge. Our visible environment isn’t affected like it is by towering turbines used to harness wind energy.

To be effective, tidal turbines, fences, or dams must be in areas with dramatic differences between their high tide and low tide. As the water rises and falls, they’re able to generate energy. The difference between high and low tide should be at least 16ft.

Tidal energy is very efficient, and even better the underwater structures can help to protect the land itself. They’ll help to hold back any high tidal surges that could damage the coastline and cause flooding.

Disadvantages of Tidal Energy

Since the turbines, dams and barrages are far below the water’s surface, maintaining them presents certain challenges. It can be difficult and relatively costly to keep equipment in working condition. The salty seawater can take its toll on working parts below the waves, which means that it’s important that equipment is carefully monitored.

Though tidal energy is green and non-polluting, it isn’t entirely eco-friendly. Underwater construction can disturb natural habitats, and may be harmful to marine life. Large dams can also get in the way of existing migratory routes, causing sea creatures to become confused and affecting their existing movement habits.

There are concerns that tidal barrages can affect the shaping of the landscape, influencing not just the current and the tides but the movement of silt, sand and sediment.

Tidal energy is only generated whilst the tides are rising and falling. This means that they generate power for a maximum of 10 hours each day.

It can be difficult to find suitable sites, where the difference from high to low tide is significant enough to make construction worthwhile. In the UK, suitable sites include the Severn, Solway, Dee and Humber estuaries.

As an individual, you have no real control over how tidal energy is used. Whilst you can choose to install equipment at home to harness the sun and the wind, you can’t build your own tidal barrage or construct large underwater turbines.

Tidal energy isn’t available to everyone. If tidal barrages are going to be built, they’ll be constructed for the country as a whole, by large corporations in line with government requirements. They’re not a suitable option for those that want to reduce their household energy bills.

The Lifespan of a Tidal Energy System

A tidal barrage is a long dam-like structure that’s used to collect tidal energy. Properly maintained, one should last approximately 100 years.

Barrages are made of concrete, with tunnels containing turbines that move as the water flows through them. With so many moving parts, it’s vitally important that barrages are monitored and cared for.

Maintaining a tidal energy system isn’t particularly easy. Much of the equipment is deep underwater, which means that any damaged parts are especially hard to replace.

Cost of a Tidal Energy System

Though construction of a tidal energy system is an expensive project, these actually end up being amongst the most cost-effective sources of renewable energy. This is because the long lifespan means that they’ll keep working for generations.

Tidal energy is a more efficient source than solar or wind. Roughly 80% of total tidal energy is harnessed, collected, stored and distributed.

Despite being cost-effective, tidal energy hasn’t yet become a popular choice. The initial investment costs are a deterrent, and there are still concerns about their impact on the environment around them. There are also concerns about the ongoing maintenance costs, which might rise towards the end of a barrage’s life.

The Future of Tidal Energy

As the UK moves towards its goal of using only renewable and non-polluting energy, it’s very likely that tidal barrages will be installed in more locations. It’s thought that tidal power could provide for around 20% of the UK’s total energy requirement.

Unfortunately, individual homeowners are not in charge of these decisions. You can install your own solar panels, and even your own wind turbines and geothermal heat pumps if you have enough space to do so, but no individual person has access to space to construct their own tidal barrage.

This means that if you want to find ways to make a difference on your own or to reduce your household energy bills on an individual level, tidal energy isn’t your solution.

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Money Savings Advice Author Len Burgess

Len Burgess

Len Burgess is a professional financial writer who over the last five years has written hundreds of articles for all financial sectors. Len founded Money Savings Advice with the aim of helping consumers navigate their way around the financial world by providing easy to understand financial information and matching consumers with the best financial advisor based on their personal information.

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