Future-proofing tidal power
4th January 2021 | Commercial Energy
The UK government estimates that tidal energy could meet around 20 pr cent of the country’s electricity demands. Considering the UK is an island and entirely surrounded by water, this comes as no surprise. Despite this fortunate position, uptake of tidal power has been slow. How should we encourage the development of this promising resource?
Tidal power functions in a similar way to wind power. Tidal turbines are placed underwater where the change in tide from high to low and low to high turns the blades to produce electricity. Tidal power is more reliable than solar or wind because we can easily predict the movement of the tides, which is determined by the Moon. However, tidal power comes with extremely high upfront costs. To make the resource more feasible, its technology needs to deliver a high performance, allowing this cost to be recovered more quickly and making tidal power more appealing.
Biofouling occurs when plans and animals attach themselves to underwater constructions as often seen on the hulls of ships. However, biofouling also alters the hydrodynamics of submerged tidal turbines, presenting a productivity problem. The biofouling organisms attach themselves to the surface of turbine blades making them rougher, which increases losses due to friction and therefore reduces the efficiency of the turbine. This, in turn, will lower tidal power’s performance and make it less cost-efficient.
Antifouling methods, such as a non-toxic coating with a low friction, can prevent organisms from attaching to surfaces whilst avoiding damage to surrounding marine life. These coatings are currently used in the shipping industry, but we must explore their applications in tidal power to reduce maintenance costs and improve efficiency. Protecting submerged turbines from their marine co-habitants isn’t the only step tidal power plants should take. Sudden changes in water flow can be equally challenging for tidal turbines.
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