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Could tidal technology become a commonplace power source and create many energy jobs in the future?

Tidal energy is a form of hydropower that converts energy obtained from the tides into useful forms of power. In the UK there is an estimated 29TWh (TerraWatt Hours) in tidal currents. In comparison, all the UK’s nuclear plants generated roughly 65TWh in 2015. In the US, the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory estimates one third of all electricity in the US could be drawn from the seas, but only 1GW of ocean electricity forecast by 2020.

A company called MeyGen have recently launched the first large-scale tidal farm in the world. The site is located between the county of Caithness and Stroma Island in the north of Scotland, an area where the Atlantic meets the North Sea and which has maximum current speeds of up to 5 meters per second.

The Initial phase of the project involves the installation of four turbines, each with a capacity of 1.5MW, but MeyGen aims to have a total of 269 turbines in operation. The first phase will involve deploying a maximum of 96 turbines which will then be subject to monitoring and analysis. After this, the second phase will involve deploying the remaining turbines. On completion, it will have a total capacity of 398MW, which is enough to power 175,000 homes.

The project has received £23 million in funding from the Scottish government and the recent launching ceremony was attended by Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister of Scotland. The project and others in the area will create jobs and are forecast to generate around £275m for the Scottish economy.

Tidal energy technology isn’t widely used at the moment due to a number of reasons. Firstly, the conditions in which the machinery operates are difficult. For example, the MeyGen turbines are under 40 meters of water flowing at 15mph, putting them under high stress, which in turn means a relatively high cost associated with installing and maintaining in comparison with other renewable technologies currently on the market. Also, there is limited availability of sites with the sufficient amount of tidal flow to make these types of projects worthwhile. On top of this is the requirement for sites to be selected where the equipment and associated maintenance wouldn’t affect local marine life.

However, there are numerous benefits. For example, there is far greater predictability of tidal flow compared with other sources such as solar and wind. Once more, more energy can be gained from tidal compared to wind due to ocean water being 832 denser than air. There’s also the fact that the farms aren’t an ‘eyesore’ on landscapes on account of them being underwater.

As technology advances and makes the technology more viable, and the pressure on governments around the world to encourage renewable energy increases, more projects like MeyGen may be announced in the near future.

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