Is Tidal Power About to Have Its Moment?

An old idea gathers steam

Tidal power near Roosevelt Island
Roosevelt Island in New York City is home to tidal power generators.
Kches16414, CC BY-SA 4.0

Trying to find environmentally friendly sources of energy is a growing concern in this era of climate change and increased needs for conservation. Solar power has been in the spotlight (no pun intended) in recent years, with the likes of Elon Musk entering into the space. So too has wind power, and the combination of the two has been growing steadily as of late. (There’s also nuclear power, but questions of its environmental friendliness are a whole debate unto themselves.)

But there’s another green source of energy that hasn’t gotten as much time in the spotlight. That’s tidal power, which has a long history in the annals of science, and checks off a number of the same boxes as wind and solar power. At JSTOR Daily, Sierra Garcia explored the history of tidal power — and pondered why it isn’t a bigger deal in 2021.

Garcia’s piece revisits an 1882 article that offered up a proposal not far removed from modern concepts of tidal power. In doing so, Garcia also observes that the placement of underwater turbines can sometimes affect the habitats of marine wildlife — one of the reasons it’s not as popular as wind or solar.

As the article points out, there are also some points in tidal power’s favor — including “the relative simplicity of the technology compared with solar panels.” And some headlines from the last year suggest that tidal power might be on the upswing. A decades-in-the-making project off the coast of New York City’s Roosevelt Island was installed late last year — and could serve as a proof of concept for one iteration of the technology. It’s a big step forward for an idea that’s been in circulation for years.

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