Thursday, June 08, 2006

Electricity from the Tides

In ecology, as Barry Commoner said, there’s no such thing as a free lunch. But that doesn’t mean some lunches aren’t cheaper than others.

Take energy generation, for example. The wind blows freely, but wind power projects are controversial because, critics contend, they’re ugly, they can be dangerous to birds, and they produce energy only when the wind is blowing. The tides, on the other hand, also flow freely, but you don’t see tidal energy installations because they are under water, they don’t pose much of a threat to fish because the propeller blades turn relatively slowly, and they produce energy all the time because the tide never stops.

Those are among the arguments being made by tidal power entrepreneurs. One company, Verdant Power, is getting ready to try a set of tidal turbines in the East River, near Roosevelt Island. Another wants to try a project off Martha’s Vineyard, where the Cape Wind proposal has caused much sturm und drang.

The technology is being labeled experimental. But maybe it can help avert the energy crisis in the Northeast that the Energy Outlook blog thinks is inevitable.


Anonymous Bryan Brown said...


Thanks for continuing to highlight the nexus of environmental and energy issues. Geoff Styles' blog is a good place to read about it from a different (but not necessarily opposite) perspective. I hope people follow the link to Patrick Moore's article article in the WaPo . I'm not endorsing or defending Moore's turn toward nuclear, but he raises interesting questions regarding the relative hazards of coal mining and LNG vs. nuclear power.

Energy Outlook also highlights the disconnect within those folks who want to shut down Indian Point (and I include myself in that crowd, based on evacuation feasibility) and the need to replace its 2000MW capacity. I'm guessing that we won't see a single 2000MW NG-fired plant rise to take it's place nor will we be able to pull off a demand reduction of 2000WM anytime in the near future.

More likely, we'll see smaller baseload plants scattered around the region. But not if people adopt the additude of some people in Brookhaven. We won't even be in a position to repower or replace the dirty oil-burners we have on LI.

Bryan Brown

10:34 AM  
Blogger Tom Andersen said...


Thanks for giving me the heads-up on the tidal power projects.


11:19 AM  
Blogger John said...

I wonder if perhaps tidal turbines would be less likely to be damaged by the tropical cyclones and nor'easters that travel up and down the Atlantic coast.

For me aesthetic concerns are not in themselves legitimate reasons for opposing wind turbines. We build lots of things that change aesthetics, some much more radically than a distant windfarm. To me the major concern is that they not be sited on major migration routes. The one off High Island, for example, is likely to be a disaster.

3:21 PM  
Anonymous Bryan said...


Based on your birding blog, you seem to be a heckuva lot more qualified than me to comment on bird issues and wind turbines. Any thoughts on the Cape Wind and LI projects and whether Montauk might be a good location for wind turbines?

3:49 PM  
Blogger Sam said...

Hey I did some research (if Wiki can be called that) and tidal power sounds cool. I can understand it for Hell's Gate in New York, too. I have no idea if other places out east from there have the current velocities like Hell's Gate - and the Race is a deep canyon.

The idea of 16-foot turbine blades down there does sound a little scary though, even if they are below 50 RPM.

If I was a scallop I'd be a little nervous but the birds on the Eastern Seaboard Flyway will thank you!

7:24 PM  
Anonymous jjjuana said...

how do power of the tides is used to produce electricity?

1:18 PM  

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