Is the tide turning in favour of tidal power?
8th February 2021 | Commercial Energy
The UK government estimates that tidal power could meet around 20% of our electricity demands, an amount which could change the dynamics of energy. This equates to an installed capacity of around 30-50 gigawatts delivering in the region of 90-200 terawatt hours per year. Given the UK is entirely surrounded by water we have the natural resources available to achieve this and much more.
The Crown Estate has surveyed and mapped the UK’s coastal areas, identifying the most advantageous locations for tidal turbines. Tidal power functions in a similar way to wind power. Tidal turbines are positioned underwater and when the tide changes the turbine blades turn producing electricity. However, unlike solar and wind, tidal power is not weather reliant and because it’s determined by the moon, making it predictable and reliable, but until now the uptake of tidal power has been very slow because it comes with extremely high upfront costs.
The development challenge is to deliver either higher performance, allowing this cost to be recovered more quickly, or lower the upfront cost. Current designs all follow a very similar path, which reduces the prospects of a breakthrough in terms of lowering costs by any meaningful margin, but that could be about the change. A senior design engineer at Boeing, Andrew McCamley, who spent several years developing and testing a unique wind turbine design, has been able to adapt his vertical axis wind turbine (VAWT) design for use under water.
McCamley used his experience and knowledge of advanced aerodynamics and incorporated aeroplane materials science to influence his VAWT design, which was extensively tested and modified in the early stages of testing at the Boeing wind tunnel testing facility in Germany, which is used to aid the design of commercial and military aircraft.
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