Sunexo Renewable Review: Tidal Energy

Is it the Next Big Thing?

Tidal energy is reliable and carbon neutral. With the global drive towards more renewable and environmentally friendly forms of energy, it is no surprise that it's a popular conversation topic.  Tidal energy seems like a good idea, but is it the next Big Thing in the renewable energy world? Studies show more research needs to be done, but it's sure looking that way.  It also has the opportunity to learn from more mature renewable energy technologies to provide insight into effective community and stakeholder engagement.

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There are different ways to produce tidal energy, but the newest technology works similarly to wind turbines that are spun by water currents from tides (See Figure 1). Tidal water patterns occur at predicable and reliable times making tidal energy a stable power source with no carbon emissions. The University of Calgary Energy Education website is a great source to learn more. 

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Figure 1 - Source: Forbes.com

Tidal energy projects are popping up all over the world. New turbine designs have led to reconsideration of the source's costs and effects on marine life.

The Fundy Ocean Research Center for Energy (FORCE) recently released their 2016 report reviewing their Canadian Tidal Energy projects. The Government of Canada has recently provided the organization $23 million along with multiple other agencies offering large sums of money for infrastructure and continued research. FORCE’s environmental effects monitoring program (EEMP) keeps a close eye on marine impacts as a result of the turbines, and has yet to show any significant negative impacts on marine life, although they agree that more long-term research needs to be done.

Australia has just announced a new $5.85 million project to map the country's water flow patterns and determine the feasibility and costs associated with installing turbines. The next step will be to design and build large tidal energy systems. Given that Australia has some of the largest tides on the planet the hopes are high for unprecedented research and tidal energy development. 

A recent study by Washington University has also shown that residents are generally in favor of installing the turbines. Social acceptance of the energy system increases when people can see the positive effects. Not surprisingly, projects that include grid-connection (so residents can directly benefit from the energy production) gain the most support. 

The benefits of Tidal Energy have even made a debut in articles on websites such as Forbes.com

Yet like all development projects, Tidal projects can face opposition from stakeholders. A recent example is in the same Bay of Fundy project mentioned earlier in Canada. At a similar time to when the above research was released, fisherman requested an injunction to stop the project. This illustrates a point that many other renewable projects have found before, that local stakeholders tend to be more concerned about how projects will impact them on a local level and any perceived lack of adequate consultation will be used as a way to challenge projects.

IRIS is currently in place for countless renewable energy projects and hopes to make a big difference with Tidal projects as well. IRIS aid in stakeholder management helps ensure stakeholder engagement best practices are maintained throughout the life-cycle of renewable projects to mitigate the non-technical risk other renewable energy projects have been challenged by. 

Tidal energy viability and environmental effects are still under investigation, but it could very well become the next Big Thing in the energy world.

Kristen Riley