May 31 2011

Tidal Energy Generation in Puget Sound

Published by under Student blog entries

             Over the past five years, tidal energy has begun to take its place alongside solar and wind energy as one of the emerging green powerhouses.  Although tidal energy technologies are far behind that of wind or solar, and are still experiencing vast changes and upgrades every day, their potential is enormous.  Unlike wind or solar power, tides are predictable and the associated technologies do not cause as many transmission efficiency problems. One of the downsides to tidal energy’s young history is that no one really wants to build a tidal energy farm due to the quickly advancing technology.  There are currently less than twelve global tidal energy projects, most of them located in Europe or Canada.  It is sure to say that the US is far behind other countries in their testing and implementation of these new innovations, but with the potential to power up to five percent of homes nationally, citing for tidal energy projects has begun in Washington, Maine, and Alaska.   There is also a strong incentive to begin using these kinds of alternative energy sources in order to avoid possible future carbon taxes.

Tidal energy turbine similar to the ones that willl be installed in Puget Sound.

            One such project that is planned on being installed in the next three years is located in Admirality Inlet in the Puget Sound.  This will be the first tidal energy project in the Pacific Northwest, and is being carried out by the Snohomish County Public Utility.  With a peak tidal speed of 11 feet per second, there is definitely a viable tidal resource in the area.  The plan consists of installing two 30 foot tall turbines 200 feet deep on the seafloor.  Combined together, the turbines will have a 500 kW capacity, with an average output of 50 kW.  This plan has already received a ten million dollar grant from the Department of Energy that covers about half of their total installation costs. 

Area in Puget Sound that is being cited for this tidal energy project.

            One concern about this and other tidal energy projects is the environmental damage that they may inflict, such as the destruction of marshes and mud flats.  These areas provide crucial habitat for many species, and aid in early development for juveniles.  Puget Sound in particular is home to many endangered species like the rockfish.  They also provide many ecosystem services such as filtering out toxins that may enter waterways and preventing erosion and flooding during storms.  Since there have not been many studies on the environmental impact portion of these new technologies, the effect that acoustics and animal interactions with the systems are still unknown.  On the bright side, the turbines being installed in Puget Sound have no exposed blade tips, move at very low speeds, and do not require chemical lubrication.  Although it is predicted that the installation and operation of these devices will have little to no impact on the surrounding organisms, I think there will be generational effects on communication, reproduction, and feeding patterns for organisms that inhabit the affected area that are currently being overlooked.  Hopefully, the people in charge of this project will not simply complete their required environmental impact statement, but they will also factor in any studies that are completed before installation occurs so that they can minimize any damage that may occur.

The article from which this information and pictures were taken from can be found here.

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