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Is Tidal Energy a Future Source of Renewable Energy in Florida?

Currently in the U.S. there are four types of energy sources that generate electricity:

  1. Fossil fuels (coal, oil and natural gas)
  2. Renewable energy (hydroelectric, wind, geothermal and solar)
  3. Nuclear power
  4. Other sources such as biofuels and biomass

Hydroelectric energy is the most widely used source of renewable energy. Most are aware of hydroelectric energy derived from dams. Water released from the reservoir flows through turbines which generate electricity. Yet there are other types of hydro power sources that harness marine currents, called tidal energy. Tidal stream turbines are similar to wind turbines, except the turbines are submerged and water flows over them instead of wind.

Tidal energy is a very reliable source of energy because, unlike solar and wind energy sources, Earth’s tides are consistently accessible. Marine currents are a consistent source of kinetic energy generated by regular tidal cycles caused by the phases of the moon. The amount of electricity that is generated using tidal power is predictable but non-dispatchable, meaning it can’t be stopped and started easily in response to the human demand for energy. However, the predictability of tidal power makes it very attractive for grid management because it eliminates most of the need for back-up plants powered by fossil fuels.

Tidal turbines are placed on the ocean floor where there are strong tidal currents. They have to be very sturdy because water is 800 times denser than air. They are more expensive to build but are able to capture more energy with the same size of blades as wind turbines. These turbines are placed in the ocean in places with high tidal velocities and anchored with tubular steel pillars ten feet in diameter, set into a hole drilled in the ocean floor.

The World Energy Council estimates that up to 1,000 GW of marine energy could be operating globally by 2050. This is a significant number, equivalent to half of the world’s present coal capacity. A study conducted by the U.S. Department of Energy found that Florida, along with 12 other states in the U.S., contain a large number of locations with high kinetic power density that may be suitable for tidal energy stations.

The cost of installing and operating marine current energy is still being researched. The International Renewable Energy Agency estimates the cost range from $.20 to $.27 per kilowatt hour.

The impact of tidal energy on marine life and the environment are still being studied. Some studies have shown relatively little impact on marine ecosystems. But other studies have found that tidal power may have negative impacts on marine life due to the change in sedimentation, dissolved oxygen and nutrients in the area of the energy station.

Unless serious negative effects are found that threaten marine life to the point where marine energy is not feasible, tidal power is likely to grow quickly in the future and become a solid part of the future of renewable, low-carbon energy.

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