The world’s oceans are teaming with life and untapped clean energy. With the need to shift away from fossil fuels, there is greater focus on generating electricity from the tide, one of the most powerful forces on our planet.
Tides are particularly interesting because they are predictable, even years in advance, unlike other renewables such as wind. They are also attractive because tidal turbines can be completely submerged and leave no visual impact on the landscape, unlike other sources of electricity generation. However, to meet the ambitions and potential of tidal energy, pioneering research is now focusing on cutting costs.
After almost three years of research, the EU-funded TIPA consortium, made up of seven companies and organisations, has developed a generator that significantly reduces tidal energy costs. The generator converts the movement of the blades of the tidal turbine into electricity.
The initial plan of the project was to cut costs by 20 %, but the TIPA team managed to surpass that.
‘In fact, after rigorous testing and optimisation work, we exceeded that goal by almost half as much again. This new generator reduces the cost of tidal energy by 29 %,’ says TIPA project manager Seumas MacKenzie. ‘We’re absolutely delighted that we’ve been able to surpass our targets and reduce costs faster than anticipated.’
Cutting those costs makes tidal energy much more competitive and will help with the longer-term phasing out of fossil fuels and nuclear energy. Aside from the cost-effectiveness, what makes TIPA truly groundbreaking is perhaps its simplicity.
The consortium has developed a tidal turbine generator without a gearbox. This direct-drive generator enables tidal energy to be turned into electricity with much greater ease and more cost effectively.
Before installing the new generator in the sea, the project team spent three months testing it onshore at the world’s leading test centre at Germany’s Aachen University. They then tested it in the sea in Scotland where it functioned very well.
Harnessing tidal potential
The potential global market of tidal power is between 150-800 TWh (terawatt hours) per year, or up to EUR 40 billion per year. Under favourable regulatory and economic conditions, ocean energy technologies (tidal and wave) could meet 10 % of the EU’s power demand by 2050.
With the growing opportunity to harness the power of tidal energy, the plan now is to introduce TIPA’s novel technology in the market. ‘Through research carried out on the project, we estimate there could be many tens of thousands of machines using the TIPA technology deployed all around the world over the coming decades,’ says MacKenzie.
That is good news for a power-hungry world. According to the Paris-based International Energy Agency, the global energy consumed in 2018 increased at nearly twice the average rate of growth since 2010. It found that higher electricity demand has been responsible for over half of the growth in energy need, and that CO2 emissions rose 1.7 % last year, reaching a record high.
‘We know the challenges we are facing with climate change and the need to get to net zero carbon. We also know we can overcome these challenges through the use of a full suite of renewable technologies – tidal energy needs to continue to expand and be part of that mix,’ concludes MacKenzie.