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Wave and Tidal Power Would Save 9.2 Gigatons of Carbon by 2050

Kenneth Allen/Geograph

Wave and tidal power ranks #29 on Drawdown’s list of climate solutions. By 2050, this alternative energy source could eliminate 9.2 gigatons of atmospheric carbon dioxide at a cost of US$412 billion. Drawdown calculates that the installations would produce a net financial loss of $1 trillion over three decades, but the investment would result in substantial emission reductions over that time.

Wave and tidal energy systems create electricity using the power of the ocean’s natural flow. The technology is attributed to the invention of the oscillating water column (OWC) in 1947 by Japanese naval commander Yoshio Masuda. Electricity is produced when a wave or tide enters an OWC and moves air through a turbine.

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Drawdown reports that certain parts of the globe have greater potential to produce this kind of energy, noting that the west coast is the best coast on all continents to produce wave energy. For tidal energy, the United States’ northeastern coast, the United Kingdom’s west coast, and South Korea’s shoreline (not to mention Canada’s Bay of Fundy) are all ideal locations.

Waves and tides are among the most powerful and constant natural sources of energy on the planet, Drawdown states. However, they only provide a small share of the world’s energy supply, and using the ocean as an energy source creates several, often expensive, challenges. The ocean is a rough environment, and equipment can be damaged by salt water and wave turbulence. And as much as wave and tidal systems must be sturdy and effective, they must also be designed with care, to avoid harming or disturbing marine life.

In general, this technology is still developing, and moving at a slower pace than solar and wind. With basic testing still under way, the most effective wave and tidal energy systems are yet to be determined. As for siting, “oscillation is the key,” Drawdown notes, “so the higher the wave, the greater its power potential tends to be.”

Advancing wave and tidal power as a renewable energy source will require big investments and more research. But if the technology reaches its potential, experts say this option could meet 25% of electricity demand in the U.S., 30% in Australia, and 70% in Scotland. With the support of public policies and private investment, wave and tidal energy can become an accessible, cost-effective alternative to fossil fuels.

2 Comments (Open | Close)

2 Comments To "Wave and Tidal Power Would Save 9.2 Gigatons of Carbon by 2050"

#1 Comment By Martin On January 13, 2020 @ 12:52 PM

Why are you focuing on this technology when the Drawdown book has wind and solar with much higher CO2 removal efficacity and with positive net savings? You chose to feature the ONLY drawdown energy technology where net savings are negative. It’s as if you are deliberately attacking renewable energy technologies by highlighting one with very high costs and minimal estimated benefits. This blatant bias is not what I expect from the Energy Mix.

#2 Comment By Mitchell Beer On January 14, 2020 @ 12:35 AM

Thanks, Martin. Actually, we’re making our way through all the chapters in Drawdown — we haven’t summarized all of them yet, but we’re getting there. As you say, many of them have positive net savings.
But I would argue that, even if they’re reporting a net cost on an item like wave and tidal, there are three reasons that doesn’t undermine the argument: getting this done will take *all* the viable options at our disposal; whatever really nominal cost we end up incurring on some of them will be vastly outweighed by even just the economic cost of delay or inaction, before even factoring in the environmental and social; and even if an option that is otherwise viable carries a cost right now, those costs may well decline with scale and experience.
I assure you, we’re not trying to undermine Drawdown or attack renewables! But I would encourage you to see for yourself — if you have a few minutes, go to our Special Report on Drawdown ( [2]) and reach your own conclusion on what we’re doing.