may be charging your smartphone with electricity generated by tidal turbines floating off the coast of Scotland. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the history of tidal energy, the latest innovation in the field, and its potential as a sustainable source of renewable energy.
In the face of climate change and dwindling natural resources, the search for sustainable, renewable energy sources has become more urgent than ever. While solar and wind power are the most commonly recognized sources of renewable energy, tidal energy—the energy generated by flowing tides—has been gaining attention in recent years. In this article, we’ll explore the history of tidal energy and the latest innovation in the field—the floating turbine—along with its potential as a sustainable source of energy to power the world.
The History of Tidal Energy
While the use of tidal energy may seem like a modern-day innovation, attempts to harness the kinetic energy of tides were made in antiquity. In the middle ages, people in Europe and the Middle East built tidal mills that used the movement of water during high and low tides to power their mills. By the middle of the 12th century, these structures could be found all along the western coast of Europe, from Holland to Spain. With the opening of the new world, tidal mills appeared in America as well.
It wasn’t until the 20th century that tidal energy began to be used more seriously. The first tidal power plant was built on the French bank of the English Channel at the mouth of the Rance River. The location was chosen because the difference in water levels there reaches 13 meters, and the speed of the tidal currents can exceed 90 kilometers per hour. The grandiose structure included power units, navigation locks, release locks, and a dam. Inside the dam, there were 24 turbo-alternators that functioned as both turbines and pumps. In 1978, just 11 years after its launch, the electricity produced by the station on the Rance River was cheaper than the electricity generated by nuclear reactors, putting an end to discussions that huge investments in the construction of such stations would never pay off.
Another notable success in the field of tidal energy was achieved by Soviet engineers, who built a pre-fabricated power plant in Murmansk in 1968 and towed it tens of kilometers to Kislyaguba, located in the Barren Sea. Here, the station was flooded and built on with pre-fabricated sections of the dam. The Soviet experiment confirmed the possibility of building tidal stations remotely many kilometers from their permanent deployment.
The Latest Innovation: Floating Tidal Turbines
The most recent development in tidal energy is the floating turbine, which has already begun generating electricity off the coast of Scotland. The Scottish company Orbital Marine Power completed the construction of the most powerful floating tidal turbine in the world in 2021, an environmentally friendly and predictable energy solution that cost almost 300 million dollars to produce.
It took more than 15 years for the Orbital Marine Power team to complete the project. During this time, they assessed the prospect of using tidal energy, created a prototype of a new power plant, got investors, received support from the British government, and ultimately built an operating floating station. The engineers spent most of their time designing the structure of the station from scratch and solving the issue of its transportation from the assembly shop to the installation site on the high seas. Considerable difficulties were experienced in locking a multi-ton object on the street with strong tidal currents, for which heavy-duty chains with anchors were specially developed for the project.
After 18 months of active construction and commissioning, the first Orbital O2 station was completed in 2021. 680 tons of metal and 72 meters in length, blades with a span of 10 meters, the station has the capacity to supply electricity to 2,000 households. The unit is held in a stationary position by chains anchored to the seabed, and the turbines are lowered into the water at a 45-degree angle. Tidal currents set the blades in motion, generating electricity that is fed through the submarine cable to the local onshore power grid. Stations of this type are able to provide energy regardless of weather conditions, as tidal currents are cylindrical and predictable.
The Future of Tidal Energy
The success of the Orbital O2 station demonstrates that even a cumbersome industry such as the power one can undergo significant changes in the near future, and alternative energy sources have every chance of becoming a catalyst for technological progress. With the support of the British government, Orbital Marine Power plans to start mass-producing such stations. The launch of the first O2 floating tidal turbine opens up a new page in the use of inexhaustible energy sources. O2 is designed in such a way that simple tugs and boats can be used to transport and install it, significantly reducing the time and costs involved in its installation and operation. A floating tidal station does not require the construction of a powerful dam, is mobile, much cheaper, and takes several months to build. It also does not have a negative impact on the environment, does not interfere with water exchange, and does not cause significant harm to marine flora and fauna.
Tidal energy, the energy generated by the flow of tides, has a long history, but it is only in recent years that it has begun to be seriously considered as a sustainable source of renewable energy. The latest innovation in the field is the floating tidal turbine, which has already begun to generate electricity off the coast of Scotland. Orbital Marine Power’s O2 station sets a new standard for the use of renewable energy sources, demonstrating the technology’s potential as a sustainable source of energy to power the world. As climate change becomes an increasingly urgent issue, it is more important than ever to continue to innovate and find alternative energy sources that can reduce our reliance on fossil fuels and help us build a more sustainable future.