PowerPedia:Tidal Power

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Tidal power is a means of electricity generation achieved by capturing the energy contained in moving water mass due to tides. Tides result from the moon's gravitational pull on large bodies of water on earth. The pull causes a rise and ebb of water level during each approximate 24 hour period of the earth's rotation in relation to the moon. The waters are drawn toward the moon, while the solid land mass remains fixed. As the waters rise and then fall, a flow is generated. These are especially pronounced where the water rises and falls up river-like channels of earth at the borders of the body of water.


The objective of tidal power devices is to tap the energy of that flow. Two types of tidal energy can be extracted: kinetic energy of currents due the tides and potential energy from the difference in height (or head) between high and low tides. Two types of tidal energy can be extracted: Kinetic energy of currents between ebbing and surging tides and Potential energy from the difference in height (or head) between high and low tides. The former method - generating energy from tidal currents - is considered much more feasible today than building ocean-based dams or barrages, and many coastal sites worldwide are being examined for their suitability to produce tidal (current) energy. Twice each day, thanks to a gravitational pull on earth from our rotating moon, world's oceans produce powerful water currents and rising and falling tides. Humans have studied and exploited the tremendous power of the tides for millennia, including harnessing tidal power in 10th century dams to turn millwheels for grinding flour. years ago, the first tidal dams were constructed to convert tidal power into electricity.

Tidal power is classified as a There was an error working with the wiki: Code[4] and Electricity generation because of the total amount of energy contained in this rotation. Tidal power is reliably predictable (unlike There was an error working with the wiki: Code[15] and Solar power).

As with There was an error working with the wiki: Code[5]. The Potential energy contained in a volume of water is

:E = xMg

where x is the height of the tide, M is the mass of water and g is the There was an error working with the wiki: Code[16]. Therefore, a tidal energy generator must be placed in a location with very high-amplitude tides. Suitable locations are found in the former USSR, USA, Canada, Australia, Korea, the UK and other countries (see below).

In Europe, There was an error working with the wiki: Code[17]s have been used for nearly 1,000 years, mainly for grinding grains. The efficiency of tidal power generation in ocean dams largely depends on the amplitude of the tidal swell, which can be up to 10 m (33 ft) where the periodic tidal waves funnel into rivers and fjords. Amplitudes of up to 17 m (56 ft) occur where There was an error working with the wiki: Code[18] amplifies the tidal waves. One of the first such tidal dams was constructed on Canada’s Bay of Fundy, where rise by as much as 12 metres (45 feet). Now, new energy technologies (NOT generate electricity from tidal currents could help produce as much reliable (Firm) electricity as the largest hydroelectric dams or nuclear and fossil fuel generating stations, without producing greenhouse gases or harming the environment. Several smaller tidal power plants have recently started generating electricity in There was an error working with the wiki: Code[19]. They all exploit the strong periodic tidal currents in narrow fjords using sub-surface There was an error working with the wiki: Code[20]s.

Basic Tidal Energy

The basic science of earth’s tidal forces confer enormous advantages on this potential

resource, namely:

The earth’s tides are a source of renewable power that is free, reliable (FIRM), and predictable years in advance (for ease of integrating with existing energy grid).

By virtue of the basic physical characteristics that accrue to seawater, namely, its density (832 times that of air) and its non-compressibility, this medium holds unique, ‘ultra-high-density’, potential (in comparison with other renewables, and wind, especially) for generating renewable energy. The potential is amplified when volume and flow rates present in many coastal locations worldwide are factored in. For example, a passage of seawater flowing with a velocity of 8 knots has a wind-speed equivalent force of approx 390 km/hour or 230 miles/hour (1 knot = 1 nautical mile/hour or 1.15 statute miles/hour or 1.8 km/hour).

Technology Overview


Barrage-style tidal power plants - no longer feasible!

The oldest technology to harness tidal power for energy generation involves building a

dam or a barrage, across a bay or estuary that has large differences in elevation

between high and low tides. Water retained behind a dam at high tide generates a

power head sufficient to generate electricity as the tide ebbs and water released from

within the dam turns conventional turbines.

Though the American and Canadian governments considered constructing ocean dams to harness the power of the Atlantic tides in the 1930s, the first commercial-scale tidal generating barrage rated at 240 MW was built in La Rance, This plant continues to operate today as does a smaller plant constructed in 1984 with the Annapolis Royal Tidal Generating Station in Nova Scotia, rated at 20 megawatts (enough power for 4,500 homes). One other tidal generating station operating today is located near Murmansk on the White Sea in Russia, rated at 0.5 megawatts.

Though they have proven very durable, barrage-style power plants are very expensive

to build and are fraught with environmental problems from the accumulation of silt

within the dam catchment area (requiring regular, expensive dredging). Accordingly,

engineers no longer consider barrage-style tidal power feasible for energy


The old method of extracting tidal energy involves building a There was an error working with the wiki: Code[6] and creating a tidal There was an error working with the wiki: Code[7] has been working on the Rance river (France) since 1967 with an installed (peak) power of 240 MW, and an annual production of 600 million kWh (about 68 MW average power).

The basic elements of a barrage are There was an error working with the wiki: Code[8]s, embankments, There was an error working with the wiki: Code[9] and ship locks. Sluices, turbines and ship locks are housed in caisson (very large concrete blocks). Embankments seal a basin where it is not sealed by caissons. The sluice gates applicable to tidal power are the flap gate, vertical rising gate, radial gate and rising sector.

Modes of operation
Ebb generation

The basin is filled through the sluices and freewheeling turbines until high tide. Then the sluice gates and turbine gates are closed. They are kept closed until the sea level falls to create sufficient head across the barrage and the turbines generate until the head is again low. Then the sluices are opened, turbines disconnected and the basin is filled again. The cycle repeats itself. Ebb generation (also known as outflow generation) takes its name because generation occurs as the tide ebbs.

Flood generation

The basin is filled through the sluices and turbines generate at tide flood. This is generally much less efficient than ebb generation, because the volume contained in the upper half of the basin (which is where ebb generation operates) is greater than the volume of the lower half (the domain of flood generation). This is compounded by the fact that there is usually a river flowing into the basin, filling the basin as the tide rises and making the difference in levels between the basin side and the sea side of the barrage (and therefore the available potential energy) less than it would otherwise be. This is not a problem with the lagoon model: the reason being that there is no current from a river to slow the flooding current from the sea.


Turbines can be powered in reverse by excess energy in the grid to increase the water level in the basin at high tide (for ebb generation and two-way generation). This energy is returned during generation.

Two-basin schemes

With two basins, one is filled at high tide and the other is emptied at low tide. Turbines are placed between the basins. Two-basin schemes offer advantages over normal schemes in that generation time can be adjusted with high flexibility and it is also possible to generate almost continuously. In normal estuarine situations, however, two-basin schemes are very expensive to construct due to the cost of the extra length of barrage. There are some favourable geographies, however, which are well suited to this type of scheme.


Tidal current power production

A new scheme plans to use turbines similar to those found in wind farms to generate electricity via large current areas such as Cook Strait in New Zealand. There are two operational devices known worldwide, one developed by Hammerfest Strom in Norway, the other by Marine Current Turbines in the Severn Estuary, UK. Other device developers include Swanturbines, Lunar Energy and Open Hydro.

Engineers have recently created two new kinds of devices to harness the energy of

tidal currents (AKA ‘tidal streams’) and generate renewable, pollution-free electricity. These new devices may be distinguished as Vertical-axis and Horizontal-axis models, determined by the orientation of a subsea, rotating shaft that turns a gearbox linked to a turbine with the help of large, slow-moving rotor blades. Both models can be considered a kind of underwater windmill.

While horizontal-axis turbine prototypes are now being tested in northern Europe (the UK and Norway) a vertical-axis turbine has already been successfully tested in Canada. Tidal current energy systems have been endorsed by leading environmental organizations, including Greenpeace, the Sierra Club of British Columbia and the David Suzuki Foundation as having “the lightest of environmental footprints,? compared to other large-scale energy systems.

Advantages of Tidal Power Generation

Tidal energy has an efficiency of 80% in converting the potential energy of the water into electricity, which is efficient compared to other energy resources such as Solar power.

Like the ocean dam models of France, Canada and Russia, vertical and horizontal-axis tidal current energy generators are fueled by the renewable and free forces of the tides,and produce no pollution or greenhouse gas emissions. As an improvement on ocean dam models, however, the new models offer many additional advantages:

the new tidal current models do not require the construction of a dam, they are considered much less costly.

the new tidal current models do not require the construction of a dam, they are considered much more environmentally-friendly.

the new tidal current models do not require the construction of a dam, further cost-reductions are realized from not having to dredge a catchment area.

tidal current generators are also considered more efficient because they can produce electricity while tides are ebbing (going out) and surging (coming in), whereas barragestyle structures only generate electricity while the tide is ebbing.

Vertical-axis tidal generators may be stacked and joined together in series to span a passage of water such as a fiord and offer a transportation corridor (bridge), essentially providing two infrastructure services for the price of one.

Vertical-axis tidal generators may be joined together in series to create a ‘tidal fence’ capable of generating electricity on a scale comparable to the largest existing fossil fuelbased, hydroelectric and nuclear energy generation facilities.

Tidal current energy, though intermittent, is predictable with exceptional accuracy many years in advance. In other words, power suppliers will easily be able to schedule the integration of tidal energy with backup sources well in advance of requirements. Thus, among the emerging renewable energy field, tidal energy represents a much more reliable energy source than wind, solar and wave, which are not predictable.

present tidal current, or tidal stream technologies are capable of exploiting and generating renewable energy in many marine environments that exist worldwide. Canada and the US, by virtue of the very significant tidal current regimes on its Atlantic and Pacific coastlines – proximal to existing, significant electro-transportation infrastructure - is blessed with exceptional opportunities to generate large-scale, renewable energy for domestic use and export.

Disadvantages and Contrary Arguments

This technology can be an intermittent source due to the nature of power output.

Tidal power schemes do not produce energy 24 hours a day. A conventional design, in any mode of operation, would produce power for 6 to 12 hours in every 24 and will not produce power at other times. As the tidal cycle is based on the period of rotation of the Moon (24.8 hours) and the demand for electricity is based on the period of rotation of the earth (24 hours), the energy production cycle will not always be in phase with the demand cycle. This causes problems for the Electric power transmission grid, as capacity with short starting and stopping times (such as hydropower or gas fired power plants) will have to be available to alternate power production with the tidal power scheme. However, a new Scottish invention called GENTEC venturi claims to solve the problem of intermittency and generate, at full capacity, 24/7.

Another argument against tidal energy tapping devices is the effect they might have on the aquatic life. The response is that such effects are nominal and that properly engineered devices could function relatively unobtrusively to the natural environment.


Tidal power schemes have a high capital cost and a very low running cost. As a result, a tidal power scheme may not produce returns for years, and investors are thus reluctant to participate in such projects. Governments may be able to finance tidal power, but many are unwilling to do so also due to the lag time before investment return and the high irreversible commitment. For example the There was an error working with the wiki: Code[21] (see for example key principles 4 and 6 within Planning Policy Statement 22) recognizes the role of tidal energy and expresses the need for local councils to understand the broader national goals of renewable energy in approving tidal projects. The UK government itself appreciates the technical viability and siting options available, but has failed to provide meaningful incentives to move its goals forward.

Tidal energy power systems are expected to be very competitive with other

conventional energy sources, and excellent cost advantages arise from there being no pollution or environmental expenses to remediate nor are their fuel expenses (the kinetic energy of tidal currents is free). Further, ongoing maintenance costs are expected to be modest, as they are with other large-scale marine infrastructures, e.g. bridges, ships, etc., and a non-polluting tidal energy regime will qualify for valuable carbon offset credits. A 2002 feasibility report on tidal current energy in British Columbia by Triton Consultants for BC Hydro stated, “Future energy costs are expected to reduce considerably as both existing and new technologies are developed over the next few years. Assuming that maximum currents larger than 3.5 m/s can be exploited and present design developments continue, it is estimated that future tidal current energy costs between 5¢ / kWh and 7¢ / kWh are achievable.?

Research and modelling

Mathematical modelling

In mathematical modelling of a scheme design, the basin is broken into segments, each maintaining its own set of variables. Time is advanced in steps. Every step, neighbouring segments influence each other and variables are updated. The simplest type of model is the flat estuary model, in which the whole basin is represented by one segment. The surface of the basin is assumed to be flat, hence the name. This model gives rough results and is used to compare many designs at the start of the design process.

In these models, the basin is broken into large segments (1D), squares (2D) or cubes (3D). The complexity and accuracy increases with dimension. Mathematical modelling produces quantitative information for a range of parameters, including:

Water levels (during operation, construction, extreme conditions, etc.)



Power output

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Sediment movements

Physical modelling

Small-scale physical representations of a tidal power scheme can be built. These have to be large to be accurate. Physical models are very expensive and are used only in critical projects.

Ongoing Research

New technologies to harness tidal current power and generate electricity, though not yet available commercially, are being tested and investigated by researchers. So, too, are researchers beginning to assess the generating potential of regional tidal current energy regimes. The following points underscore the exciting potential of this emerging resource.

An engineering research report released by the University of Southampton, UK, 2003, describes marine current turbines as a more effective and predictable energy resource than wind turbines, with the potential to access an estimated four times more energy. Dr. AbuBakr S. Bahaj of the Sustainable Energy Research Group, U of S, asserts, “a tidal current turbine rated to work in a flow between 2 to 3 metres/per second in seawater can typically access four times as much energy per rotor swept area as a similarly rated power wind turbine.? Dr. Bahaj adds, 'the potential of the electricity that can be produced from the resource is high. For example, our current estimate of such a potential for only one site, the races of the Channel Islands, indicates that this will be about the same as the electricity produced by three Sizewell B nuclear power stations [= 3 GW].? The Department of Civil Engineering (CEE) and the School of Engineering Sciences (SES) at the U of S have been awarded £215,000 over the next three years by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) to research the development of turbines to generate power as tides ebb and flow.

British Columbia has taken the first small (and conservative) steps to estimating the energy-generating potential of tidal current energy on its coast, and similar assessment surveys should be undertaken in the maritime provinces and Quebec. In BC Hydro’s 2002 ‘Tidal Current Energy’ analysis completed by Triton Consultants, the following advantages of Tidal energy are listed in the Executive Summary:

Tidal current energy is predictable – tides can be predicted centuries into the future

Tidal current energy is regular - tidal currents follow a daily cycle

Tidal current energy peaks at different times at different sites – power can be phased into the electricity grid.

Tidal current energy will not be effected by global climate change

Based on tidal modeling studies, environmental and physical impacts of tidal current power generation are expected to be small.

Tidal current resources in British Columbia are considerable – the mean annual exploitable power ranges from about 2,700 GWh/annum for large scale installations with existing technology to approximately 20,000 GWh/annum with realistic assumptions on near future technology. Note that 2,700 GWh and 20,000 GWh represent 5.6% and 40% respectively of BC Hydro’s power generation in the year spanning 2001 to 2002.

Present tidal current energy generation costs, using currently demonstrated technology, appear to be competitive with other Green Energy sources, at 11¢ / kWh for a large site (800 MW rated capacity and 1400 GWh/annum) and 25¢ / kWh for a small site (43 MW rated capacity and 76 GWh/annum). These costs assume a conservative capacity factor (mean power/rated power) of 20% and a maximum current speed of 3.5 m/s.

Future energy costs are expected to reduce considerably as both existing and new technologies are developed over the next few years. Assuming that maximum currents larger than 3.5 m/s can be exploited and present design developments continue, it is estimated that future tidal current energy costs between 5¢ / kWh and 7¢ / kWh are achievable.

In May, 2001, the Science and Technology Committee of the British Parliament released a comprehensive report, ‘Tidal and Wave Energy’ following an extensive inquiry. The report recommends the British Government enhance opportunities to develop and deploy such systems and it identifies the following benefits of ocean energy systems:

Energy from both waves and tides is predictable and reliable, with few problems integrating the electricity into a modern Grid.

Modern wave and tidal devices are based upon tried and tested engineering skills and experience, built up over fifty years of offshore oil and gas exploitation, in which the UK is particularly rich. There are already several prototypes working around the world - most notably on Islay in Western Scotland.

Although more research needs to be carried out, the environmental impact of wave and tidal devices appears to be minimal. In fact, they can have a positive impact by stopping coastal erosion, for example.

The potential domestic and export market for wave and tidal energy devices is estimated to be worth between a half and one billion pounds. Were the UK to seize the lead now it could create a whole new industry employing thousands of people, as Denmark has already done with wind turbines.

Climate and very strong tidal streams.

A 1994 report on Blue Energy Canada’s Davis Hydro Turbine commissioned by the government of British Columbia stated, “Many sites in B.C. and worldwide have the required conditions, deep, fast currents, to utilize the Davis turbine to produced commercial quantities of electricity.? … “In suitable sites, and many seem to exist, significant quantities of electricity might be generated on scales comparable to conventional power plants (hydro, thermal, and nuclear).? The report’s author, Dr. Harold Halvorson (Halvorson Marine Engineers,Victoria) also said, “B.C might benefit not only from using the technology to generate tidal electricity in the province but also from manufacturing units for domestic and export markets.?

Large-scale tidal energy generation has been proposed for Passamaquoddy Bay straddling New Brunswick and Maine, and the Bay of Fundy since at least the 1930s. Even the late American President John F. Kennedy, a champion of a large-scale barragestyle tidal power project at ‘Quoddy, envisioned a “fossil-fuel-free energy future? on the Atlantic seaboard. Newer tidal current technologies offer much more energy generation potential, and much less environmental disturbance, than the impoundment schemes advanced in earlier plans. (To listen to a speech by the late JFK extolling the attributes of the Passamaquoddy Bay tidal energy project, from the Rose Garden of the White House in 1963, go to:

Related Systems

One might argue that rivers could be similarly tapped. A contrary consideration is for surface vessels that need to navigate those channels. Rivers tend to be generally shallow, whereas tide channels can be deep enough to avoid surface craft.

Environmental Overview

Life-cycle Assessment

construction of components, including thin-shelled (reinforced concrete) marine caissons, durable steel turbines, electrical generation equipment, electrical transmission cables, other infrastructure)

transportation, assembly and installation of energy generation system

operation and maintenance of energy generation system

removal, disassembly and recycling of components

Environmental Signature

expected long-life of components (thin-shelled marine caissons, durable steelturbines, electrical generating equipment, electrical transmission cables)

requires no fuel

produces no emissions

produces no waste products during operation

little or no siltation expected during operation

open sluice, slow-rotor design allows for easy passage of fish and marine invertebrates

minimal noise expected during operation

minimal EMF (electro-magnetic field) expected during operation

Main Concerns

impact on fish and marine mammal movement and/or migration [ed., Mitigation: rotors stop at slack tide, protective barriers, sensory braking technology, acoustical tracking technology to guide fish and mammals]

deflection of local energy regime (as energy is removed by turbines) [ed., Response: energy displacement is NOT expected to be significant]

marine fouling (encrustation) of energy system components by algae and invertebrates [ed., Mitigation: use of non-toxic, anti-fouling materials]

noise and/or electro-magnetic fields (EMFs) in marine environment [ed., Response: noise and/or EMF from operation expected to be minimal]

Local environmental impact

The placement of a barrage into an estuary has a considerable effect on the water inside the basin and on the fish.


Turbidity (the amount of matter in suspension in the water) decreases as a result of smaller volume of water being exchanged between the basin and the sea. This lets light from the Sun to penetrate the water further, improving conditions for the There was an error working with the wiki: Code[24]. The changes propagate up the There was an error working with the wiki: Code[25], causing a general change in the There was an error working with the wiki: Code[26].


Again as a result of less water exchange with the sea, the average salinity inside the basin decreases, also affecting the ecosystem. Again, lagoons do not suffer from this problem.

Sediment movements

Estuaries often have high volume of sediments moving through them, from the rivers to the sea. The introduction of a barrage into an estuary may result in sediment accumulation within the barrage, affecting the ecosystem and also the operation of the barrage.


Once again, as a result of reduced volume, the pollutants accumulating in the basin will be less efficiently dispersed. Their concentrations will increase. For There was an error working with the wiki: Code[10] pollutants, such as sewage, an increase in concentration is likely to lead to increased bacteria growth in the basin, having impacts on the health of the human community and the ecosystem. The concentrations of conservative pollutants will also increase.


Fish may move through sluices safely, but when these are closed, fish will seek out turbines and attempt to swim through them. Also, some fish will be unable to escape the water speed near a turbine and will be sucked through. Even with the most fish-friendly turbine design, fish mortality per pass is approximately 15% (from pressure drop, contact with blades, There was an error working with the wiki: Code[11], but is devastating for local fish who pass in and out of the basin on a daily basis. Alternative passage technologies (There was an error working with the wiki: Code[27]s, fish lifts, etc.) have so far failed to solve this problem for tidal barrages, either offering extremely expensive solutions, or ones which are used by a small fraction of fish only. Research in sonic guidance of fish is ongoing.

Global environmental impact

A tidal power scheme is a long-term source of electricity. A proposal for the There was an error working with the wiki: Code[28], if built, has been projected to save 18 million tons of coal per year of operation. This decreases the output of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. More importantly, as the fossil fuel resource is likely to be eliminated by the end of the twenty-first century, tidal power is one of the alternative source of energy that will need to be developed to satisfy the human demand for Energy.

News and operations

Operating tidal power schemes

The first tidal power station was the There was an error working with the wiki: Code[12], France ( It has 240MW installed capacity.

The first (and only) tidal power site in North America is the There was an error working with the wiki: Code[13], There was an error working with the wiki: Code[29], which opened in There was an error working with the wiki: Code[30] on an inlet of the There was an error working with the wiki: Code[31] It has 20MW installed capacity.

A small project was built by the Soviet Union at There was an error working with the wiki: Code[32] on the There was an error working with the wiki: Code[33]. It has 0.5MW installed capacity.

China has apparently developed several small tidal power projects and one large facility in Jiangxia.

China is also developing a tidal lagoon ([near the mouth of the Yalu]

Scotland has committed to having 18% of its power from green sources by 2010, including 10% from a tidal generator. The British government says this will replace one huge fossil fueled power station.

South African energy parastatal There was an error working with the wiki: Code[34] is investigating using the There was an error working with the wiki: Code[35] to generate power off the coast of There was an error working with the wiki: Code[36]. Because the continental shelf is near to land it may be possible to generate electricity by tapping into the fast flowing Mozambique current.Independent Online Article


Tidal Energy -- A Primer (pdf) - Prepared by Martin Burger of Blue Energy, a tidal energy company. Has given permission to tranfer its contents to this PESWiki page for expansion.

NEWS about Tidal energy May be found at the Blue Energy Canada website news listing and on the website for the OCEAN RENEWABLE ENERGY GROUP (OREG), based in southwestern British Columbia. [

External articles and references


Baker, A. C. 1991, Tidal power, Peter Peregrinus Ltd., London.

Baker, G. C., Wilson E. M., Miller, H., Gibson, R. A. & Ball, M., 1980. 'The Annapolis tidal power pilot project', in Waterpower `79 Proceedings, ed. Anon, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, pp 550-559.

Hammons, T. J. 1993, 'Tidal power', Proceedings of the IEEE, [Online], v81, n3, pp 419-433. Available from: IEEE/IEEE Xplore. [26 July 2004].

Lecomber, R. 1979, 'The evaluation of tidal power projects', in Tidal Power and Estuary Management, eds. Severn, R. T., Dineley, D. L. & Hawker, L. E., Henry Ling Ltd., Dorchester, pp 31-39.

There was an error working with the wiki: Code[1], Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation.

Directory of Tidal Power Resources

Climate Change Chronicles -- Article about new tidal power technology

University of Strathclyde ESRU -- Summary of tidal and marine current generators

University of Strathclyde ESRU-- Detailed analysis of marine energy resource, current energy capture technology appraisal and environmental impact outline

The British Library - finding information on the renewable energy industry

Independent Online - information about South African ventures into coastal current power

Tidal Energy -- A Primer - Prepared by Martin Burger of Blue Energy

Tidal Energy - A visual directory of tidal power websites. (

Debt Help - Financial Debt Help From Professionals


There was an error working with the wiki: Code[1], Tharp, January 3, 2006, Hydro-electric farms

There was an error working with the wiki: Code[2], Tharp, February 7, 2006, Hydro-electric farms

There was an error working with the wiki: Code[3], Tharp, February 14, 2006, Hydro-electric farms

See also


Directory:Tidal Power at PESWiki

Directory:Ocean Wave Energy at PESWiki

Tidal Acceleration at Wikipedia. Describes the phenomenon of tide in general.

Tidal Power News Daily News Headlines about tidal and wave energy.

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