How man-made coral is unlocking the potential of tidal power

Wave power is a relatively untapped source of energy that could play a huge role in satisfying energy demand in years to come.

Estimates vary on just how much energy could be generated by wave power, but research published earlier in the year estimated that, in the future, wave power technologies could contribute up to 10% of global energy demand.

coral, tidal power, renewable energy, man made

Wave power is different from tidal power. Tidal power relies on the regularity of tides on shorelines, and tides are linked to the gravitational effect of the moon’s movement around the earth.

The energy carried by waves is effectively the same energy from the wind, which is transferred to the water as the wind moves over the surface. This starts a feedback loops, with the wind creating waves and a rougher surface, and the increased roughness of the water surface improves the energy transfer, creating larger waves.

Waves carry a large amount of potential energy, and the seasonal peak of wave energy in winter makes it a reasonable option for small-scale baseload in these months to complement the seasonal peak of solar in summer.

Given that around 60% of the world population is situated near coastal areas, advances in wave energy offer interesting potential renewable solutions for the future.

Wave energy has yet to take off in a meaningful way for a few reasons. The harsh operating conditions mean that production and maintenance costs are high, and the potential adverse effects on marine life are also a consideration.

But there are companies working on the technology, including one which hopes to help small island and coastal communities.

For example, Zyba – whose curved CCell turbine offers the dual benefit of generating energy and growing artificial coral reefs where the turbines are tethered to fortify coastlines against the effects of severe weather.

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The presence of coral reefs helps to dampen the effects of storms, absorbing as much as 97% of the energy contained in the waves which break over them, according to research published in 2014.

By building these artificial coral reefs, the company believes it can help to provide better protection for coastal communities while also helping to calm the waters around the wave generators, creating the conditions for consistent generations.

Artificial coral is made by placing metal structures under water and running low voltage current through it. This extracts minerals (predominately calcium carbonate) from seawater, collecting it on the structures where it calcifies into coral.

The current required to do this would come from the wave generators themselves. As well as helping to dampen the effects of storms, reefs help to promote biodiversity and regulate the marine environment.

The generator is an innovative and holistic solution to several of the problems posed by climate change, and offers some solutions to mitigate other effects of climate change.

Ocean acidification caused by the increased concentration of carbon dioxide in the air and water has led to coral bleaching. By growing artificial coral in new locations and near injured corals, tidal energy generators can have a positive impact in more way than one.

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