The Tide Rising: Chile Is Made for Marine Renewable Energy

An estimated 3.2 billion (and growing) people live at least 120 miles from the coast [1] These changing coastal populations will need to find new and possibly alternative ways to meet growing energy demand. One strategy that I am proponent for is the use of tidal and wave energy. While both are marine energies, the technologies and ideal areas for location are often not the same.

In wave power generation, there is no clear-cut, industry-standard technology, but in general it takes kinetic energy from ocean waves to make electricity. Like other forms of renewable energy, it is intermittent as wave height and period vary depending on the weather throughout the ocean. Despite the lack of the use, there is amazing potential with estimates from the EIA showing global wave energy resource somewhere between 8,000 to 80,000 TWh [2].

Tidal electricity generation harnesses energy from the ebb and flow of tides that turn undersea turbines. As tides are consistent flows that occur twice a day in most regions, tidal power is not as intermittent as other renewable energy sources but the 12.5 hour tidal cycle can often miss peak electric demand. Areas with large tidal flucutations between low and high tide are preferable (a tidal range of at least 7 meters to be considered economical). [3] For comparison, the Texas coast has a tidal range of around less than 1 meter. [4] Don’t expect this happening anywhere near the Austin Area any time soon, but one place is particularly well suited: Chile.

With a growing a economy based around very energy intensive industries, including some of the world’s largest copper mines, Chile will need to increase and diversify their energy production. Chile’s population of roughly 17 million people nested around its 6345 kilometers of coastline (roughly same amount of coastline as the Pacific Coast of the US mainland) is particularly well suited to have some of their energy demand supplied by tidal and wave energy [ 5].

Ranked as the 5th best country in Latin America for renewable energy by Bloomberg New Energy Finance, Chile has attracted more than $4.5 billion in funds for clean energy technologies[6]. Most investment has been directed toward more conventional renewable energy sources, like wind and solar, but there have been increased interest in nonconventional renewable energy sources. The Chaco Channel — located near the southern port city of Puerto Montt — was estimated to be the third strongest energy current in the world with 2,000 megawatts of potential energy. [7]. In 2009, to help facilitate marine energy technology technology into Chile, the Energy Innovation Center at the Interamerican Development Bank began bilateral work with Chilean government to help study and develop the use of marine energy. The studies have established areas, mostly in the southern part of the country, suitable for both production of tidal and wave energy. [8]

Despite the potential increases energy sustainability and diversification offered by marine energy, installing wind or wave electricity generation in the future any will be both a challenging task financially, for engineering, and for effective regulation.












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2 responses to “The Tide Rising: Chile Is Made for Marine Renewable Energy

  1. maxvilmar

    Awesome, I never thought about wave energy as an attainable source of power before! My first thought: how could we design an economically feasible generator that uses waves when the physics behind wave motion is so complex? As it turns out, due to the nature of waves, only 50% of energy capture is possible and that is in ideal conditions[1]. Indeed, the physics behind wave energy capture is very complex, as every wave is different in shape and size. But a New Jersey company, Ocean Power Technologies, has developed the “first commercially licensed grid-connected wave-energy device in the nation” [3]. They use the horizontal effect that waves have on floating buoys, shown in the video in [2]. As a wave passes, it moves the buoy up, then down, and the electrical generator absorbs the energy produces in this horizontal motion. It is a very creative and effective use of wave energy, and it also has minimal negative on ocean waves, surface profile, and environment [2].




  2. I think there are a couple other things to think of.
    I recently watched 180degree south, a documentary about patagonia and the governments trying to build dams there. Many of the people who live in those areas are opposed to the construction and want to leave nature there as it is. This is also generally an issue with new projects taken by the government. Is there a way to get please both sides?

    And off of the diversification of energy sources, it would be interesting to analyze how renewable energy sources that depend on natural phenomena (ie solar power, algae, wind turbines, hydroelectric dams, tidal electric gen., etc) would be able to play off of each other. Are they abundant sources of energy at the same time? Do show up in pairs or trios in specific areas of geography? etc

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