What Are the Environmental Impacts of Tidal Energy?
Even though people have been exploiting sea currents for hundreds of years, tidal energy as we know it today is unknown territory in many aspects. Advanced tidal power plants have yet to become widely deployed technologies, which is why the question What are the environmental impacts of tidal energy? has yet to find a comprehensive answer. As tidal energy moves beyond the stage of prototype and demonstrative projects, researchers will be able to find out more about how this renewable source of energy impacts Mother Nature.
About Tidal Energy
For the past few years, companies from around the world have found ways to use the potential of tidal hydrokinetic energy to furnish clean, reliable power. Thus, the developing turbine structures are making generation of electricity from ocean energy economically and technologically advantageous.
With proper research, tidal energy programs could become a feasible renewable energy source, replacing the need for fuel-based energy resources, at least in part. In addition to mitigating the massive carbon dioxide production (which contributes to climate change and ocean acidification), tidal energy also decreases the risk of tragic spills associated with fossil fuel extraction.
Understanding Environmental Impacts
In spite of the many benefits of exploiting tidal power, there are negative impacts, as well. For example, the risk to the marine environment and marine mammals is largely unknown. In order to operate tidal power stations appropriately and analyze the potential contribution tidal power can make in terms of renewable energy, we must better understand the environmental impacts of this technology.
One important mention is the difference between environmental effects and environmental impacts. On one hand, environmental effects refer to the wide range of potential interactions between tidal energy equipment and the marine ecosystems. On the other hand, environmental impacts are those particular effects that we know for sure will cause deleterious ecological alterations.
To understand the many potential environmental impacts, researchers must carefully monitor the situation via pilot-scale deployments. Tidal project and tidal device developers should pair with oceanographers to examine the collection of monitoring data, the modeling methodologies, and what the study results imply.
In addition, it’s clear that we need alternative energy sources. Almost 70 percent of the U.S. demand for electricity is currently fulfilled by fossil fuels. This resource generously contributes to environmental impacts, such as acid rain, poor air quality, ocean acidification, and climate change. Over the last half-decade, the federal government and eco-friendly organizations have worked together to support the development of renewable energy technologies. By aligning taxes, incentives, markets, and research funding, the policy can gradually advance towards renewable energy.
Renewable Ocean Energy
The term renewable ocean energy covers a wide array of advancements, including ocean current, wave, tidal current, osmotic pressure, ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC), and offshore wind power. Thanks to all of these developments, ocean energy has a great potential of becoming a significant resource for the production of clean renewable electricity. However, harnessing more than a small fraction of this natural distraction for electricity production would profoundly impact regional tides. Therefore, tidal energy cannot cover the global needs for power generation, only a tiny part.
On the other hand, the tidal resource potential is compelling. That is, especially when compared to the 0.3 TW of power produced by worldwide hydroelectric installations. The main problem with tidal energy production is that recoverable tidal resources are extremely limited. Only a few sites on this planet present potential for harnessing the ocean’s power in an economical way.
What Are the Environmental Impacts of Tidal Energy?
In many ways, the environmental impacts of harnessing tidal power are similar to those of offshore wind power generation. Several assessments over the past few years have identified the following potential environmental impacts. These indirect ecological impacts would result from lengthy installation of offshore renewable energy projects.
- Changing of substrates, sediment transit and deposition;
- Alteration of waves and sea currents;
- Noise pollution during installation and operation;
- Alteration of ecosystems for regional organisms;
- Emission of harmful electromagnetic fields;
- Intrusion upon animal migrations; and
- Potential strikes by any moving parts of the tidal system.
Further effects on biological ecosystems could refer to the changing of the animals’ behavior. In addition, researchers should also consider the damage to individual plants and animals, as well as the potentially longer-term alterations to plant and animal communities. For example, migratory fish like salmonids are often protected by various legislative controls. Moreover, salmonids and other marine fishes use tidal currents for navigation. However, research has proved that fish behavioral ecology is limited in relation to tidal devices, which is why its potential effects are unrelated.
Mitigating the Environmental Impacts of Tidal Energy
At the moment, UK holds the title as the global authority in marine energy technologies. Therefore, it’s no surprise that UK has already launched their first seabed sonar. An underwater device, it will measure the environmental impacts of wave and tidal power at their local test sites. The job of the two state-of-the-art sonar systems is to track fish and diving seabirds that pass through the power plant’s site. The focus is analyzing the way fish and seabirds relate to tidal power systems.
These monitoring devices are necessary because tidal power technologies impact the water flow and turbulence. It’s only natural for scientists to study the way these changes influence marine wildlife. Is the environmental impact significant or not?
Tidal resources have great potential to become consistent sources of renewable energy in the following years. It’s a predictable source, giving it a significant advantage over wind and solar power. However, it’s crucial to study the environmental impact of the tidal energy technology before widely deploying them.
Our planet is going through a rough patch – environmentally-wise. Therefore, we should focus on further developing only eco-friendly energy sources. From this point of view (and many others), tidal power certainly looks promising. However, further research will help experts come up with more accurate conclusions.
Header Image: siemens.co.uk