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April 2011 – Developing clean, renewable energy sources is of keen interest to those seeking to broaden our Nation’s renewable energy portfolio. It is also the focus of new scientific investigation in the Pacific Northwest. Of particular interest is the relationship between tidal energy technology and its interactions with the marine environment. NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service, together with the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and the Northwest National Marine Renewable Energy Center, is exploring this relationship and is developing a framework for important scientific investigation.
Hompage Image Caption: Ocean Renewable Power Company’s Turbine Generator Unit deployed from a barge in Cobscook Bay, Maine.
Tidal energy is a renewable energy source that has the potential to provide clean, reliable power by harnessing the forces produced by ocean tides. Turbine designs are evolving and making ocean energy production technologically and economically feasible—potentially reducing our dependence on fossil fuels and limiting carbon dioxide releases. Puget Sound has strong tidal currents, which makes it a key site for developing and
deploying tidal turbines. But what are the environmental effects of this new technology on the bountiful species that reside in tidal waters? At this time, the relationship between tidal energy production and the marine environment is
not well known. This is a relatively new source of energy and development is in its early stages with very limited data available on environmental effects.
However, NOAA Fisheries and its partners are working to identify the full range of environmental effects associated with tidal energy devices. In March 2010, the organizations held a workshop in Seattle, Washington to develop an initial assessment of the environmental effects of installation, operation, decommissioning, and maintenance of tidal power generating devices; determine the marine species that may be affected; and develop a framework of interactions against which specific tidal generation projects might plan their environmental assessments and monitoring programs.
The workshop’s key findings were released in a report this April. At this point, critical knowledge gaps hinder the evaluation of environmental impacts and the technologies required to monitor high priority interactions are
underdeveloped and expensive. To collect the requisite data and expand our understanding of these key interactions, it will be necessary to identify research priorities, develop models at the individual turbine and regional scales, apply mitigation strategies, and monitor pilot-scale deployments to explore the environmental impacts.
Researchers and developers will address these critical uncertainties by monitoring pilot deployments. The first pilot turbines—two devices—are
scheduled for deployment in Snohomish County, Washington in the summer of 2012. In the mean time, scientists will continue to identify key research priorities and develop scientific frameworks to explore the relationship between tidal energy production and marine ecosystems. Stay tuned as this new area of scientific research continues to evolve.
For more information and for the Tidal Energy Report please see:
National Marine Fisheries Service: http://www.nwr.noaa.gov/Salmon-Hydropower/FERC/marine-energy.cfm
Pacific Northwest National Laboratory: http://mhk-tethys.pnl.gov/
Northwest National Marine Renewable Energy Center: http://depts.washington.edu/nnmrec/workshop/