“The advantage of tides is that they’re very predictable. I can tell you what the tide is doing in twenty years. That is a big advantage”
So said Dr Tony Lewis, the director of the Hydraulics and Maritime Research Centre at the University College Cork.
Dr Lewis told ELN: “We know what the speed of waves will be. The density of energy is much greater. To me it seems a no-brainer, we should be chasing this very hard. If the windmills were the same size, the tidal model would be more than twenty times more powerful than that of wind.”
Critics of marine energy development see problems in the environmental impacts upon reefs and the sea bed, but Dr Lewis thinks differently. “The ecological impact is quite small, even though you might think it is quite large. Minced seals have not happened.
“Two things happen: when you make a foundation on the seabed it becomes like an artificial reef; it also controls the use of the space, you can control where the fisherman go, I think it has a positive impact rather than a negative impact.”
The future looks bright for such technologies. With the government expecting to create 15% of the UK’s energy from renewable sources by 2020, Dr Lewis said: “I think people are now realising the potential of tidal and wave energy. There will be a significant input.
“The estimate at the moment is that we’ll have 1.4 GW of marine power by 2020. There’s a great opportunity, an untapped resource there… and it’s local. It creates jobs, there are people servicing these. The fishing industry is declining and you can redeploy local guys to build these things.”
Dr Lewis said the problem lies in the difficulty to engineer marine technologies: wind is much more straightforward. “I think people are now realising the potential of tidal and wave energy. Europe is the leader at the moment.”