Tidal Power: The future of renewable energy?

Renewable energy is key to mitigating climate change. In the UK, renewable technology is being developed to help achieve Climate objectives. The drive for renewable energy has been seen most strongly in Scotland. The Scottish Government stated that “by 2030 we aim to generate 50% of Scotland's overall energy consumption from renewable sources, and by 2050 we aim to have decarbonised our energy system almost completely”. One of the ways the Scottish Government is doing this is by supporting the development of Tidal power.

Tidal power is a relatively new technology, which harnesses the power of waves to produce energy. It is still in the early stages of development, with only a handful of tidal wave devices globally. Orkney, off the coast of Northern Scotland, is home to the European Marine Energy Center (EMEC), a world-leading research centre focused on testing tidal and wave energy technology. Companies all over the world are testing their tidal power devices at this center.

The EMEC is currently home to the “World’s Largest Tidal Power Device”, Orbital O2, which began producing energy in July 2021. The device is 74 m long and 16 m wide, and capable of producing 2 megawatts of electricity, which could power around 2,000 homes. It is a flotational device with two turbines beneath the surface. The turbines are spun by the tidal current to produce energy. This energy is then transferred back to the mainland via a subsea cable.

Tidal technology offers a much more predictable and reliable technology than other renewable energy sources such as wind power. Unlike wind, tides can be predicted up to 18 years into the future, as they are determined by the position of the moon, earth, and the sun. Wind speeds vary significantly, meaning there are periods of deficit and surplus energy from wind. However, there is not currently battery storage technology available to store excess energy from wind power. Meaning that wind power cannot currently replace fossil fuels completely.

To date, tidal Power has not taken off as it is a very expensive technology, however, the EMEC are looking for ways to make it more affordable. It is likely to take decades for this technology to be fully up and running. However, it offers huge potential and could supply around 10% of electricity in the UK.


Amelia Townsend