Science Gazette

Millions of dollars in U.S. funds are slated to go toward tidal energy and river current systems

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The U.S. Department of Energy announced $35 million in funding would be made available “to develop tidal and river current energy systems” as part of initiatives it expects will give a boost to a sector with a meager present footprint. The largest investment in tidal and river current energy technology in the United States, according to a statement from the DOE explaining the move on Tuesday. The funding opportunity is scheduled to be released in 2023. The Department of Energy proposed “creating a tidal current research, development and demonstration site and to enable in-water demonstration of at least one tidal energy system.”

Oceans and rivers are “a major potential source of renewable energy,” according to Alejandro Moreno, acting assistant secretary for energy efficiency and renewable energy. According to the DOE, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law would provide the cash. Numerous tidal power-related projects, including some in the United States, have advanced significantly in recent years. For instance, the European Marine Energy Centre in the Orkney islands, which is located north of mainland Scotland, began grid-connected power generation in July 2021 using what has been labeled “the world’s most powerful” tidal turbine. They expect that by building a laboratory that can put tidal turbine blades through rigorous testing, they will speed up the development of marine energy technologies and bring down their prices. The facility will cost £4.6 million ($5.18 million). In May of 2022, it was officially inaugurated.

Despite the excitement surrounding the potential of renewable technologies like tidal power, scaling them up is a difficult task, as the DOE noted in its announcement. It stated that in order to advance from testing devices one at a time to constructing a commercial site, the tidal and river current energy business in the United States “needs long-term and large expenditure.” The difficulty of setting up equipment and navigating the permission procedure, as well as the lack of access to local power networks, have consistently stood in the way of the development of tidal and river current energy. The mix of fuels used to generate power in America today still significantly relies on fossil fuels.

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Fossil fuels accounted for 60.8% of utility-scale energy generation in 2021, according to preliminary data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Nuclear energy contributed for 18.9% of the total, while renewable energy made up 20.1%. While tidal barrage advancements were the first emphasis of those working in the marine energy sector—La EDF’s Rance tidal barrage dates back to the 1960s, for instance—companies have recently begun concentrating on other technologies. There are tidal stream devices among them, which, according to the European Marine Energy Centre, “are broadly comparable to submerged wind turbines.”

The overall scale of tidal stream and wave energy installations is quite tiny in comparison to other renewable energies. According to information provided by Ocean Energy Europe in March 2022, 2.2 MW of tidal stream capacity was installed in Europe last year, up from just 260 kilowatts in 2020. OEE said that a 681-kW installation for wave energy was a threefold increase. In 2021, 3.12 MW of tidal stream capacity was installed, compared to 1.38 MW of wave energy that went online globally. In contrast, estimates from the trade group WindEurope show that 17.4 gigawatts of wind generating capacity were installed in Europe in 2021.

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