"The pumping trick" artificially increases the amplitude of the tides in a tidal pool so as to amplify the power obtained. The energy cost of pumping in extra water at high tide is repaid with interest when the same water is let out at low tide; similarly, extra water can be pumped out at low tide, then let back in at high tide. The pumping trick is sometimes used at La Rance, boosting its net power generation by about 10% (Wilson and Balls, 1990). Let's work out the theoretical limit for this technology. I'll assume tidal amplitude optimal boost power power
(half-range) h height b with pumping without pumping (m) (m) (W/m2) (W/m2)
Table G.10. Theoretical power density from tidal power using the pumping trick, assuming no constraint on the height of the basin's walls.
13 20 26
that generation has an efficiency of eg = 0.9 and that pumping has an efficiency of ep = 0.85. Let the tidal range be 2h. I'll assume for simplicity that the prices of buying and selling electricity are the same at all times, so that the optimal height boost b to which the pool is pumped above high water is given by (marginal cost of extra pumping = marginal return of extra water):
b/ep = eg (b + 2h). Defining the round-trip efficiency e = egep, we have b = 2/z—^—.
For example, with a tidal range of 2h = 4 m, and a round-trip efficiency of e = 76%, the optimal boost is b = 13 m. This is the maximum height to which pumping can be justified if the price of electricity is constant.
Let's assume the complementary trick is used at low tide. (This requires the basin to have a vertical range of 30 m!) The delivered power per unit area is then where T is the time from high tide to low tide. We can express this as the maximum possible power density without pumping, eg2pgh2/T, scaled up by a boost factor which is roughly a factor of 4. Table G.10 shows the theoretical power density that pumping could deliver. Unfortunately, this pumping trick will rarely be exploited to the full because of the economics of basin construction: full exploitation of pumping requires the total height of the pool to be roughly 4 times the tidal range, and increases the delivered power four-fold. But the amount of material in a sea-wall of height H scales as H2, so the cost of constructing a wall four times as high will be more than four times as big. Extra cash would probably be better spent on enlarging a tidal pool horizontally rather than vertically.
The pumping trick can nevertheless be used for free on any day when the range of natural tides is smaller than the maximum range: the water tidal amplitude boost height power power
(half-range) h b with pumping without pumping
Table G.11. Power density offered by the pumping trick, assuming the boost height is constrained to be the same as the tidal amplitude. This assumption applies, for example, at neap tides, if the pumping pushes the tidal range up to the springs range.
level at high tide can be pumped up to the maximum. Table G.11 gives the power delivered if the boost height is set to h, that is, the range in the pool is just double the external range. A doubling of vertical range is easy at neap tides, since neap tides are typically about half as high as spring tides. Pumping the pool at neaps so that the full springs range is used thus allows neap tides to deliver roughly twice as much power as they would offer without pumping. So a system with pumping would show two-weekly variations in power of just a factor of 2 instead of 4.
Getting "always-on" tidal power by using two basins
Here's a neat idea: have two basins, one of which is the "full" basin and one the "empty" basin; every high tide, the full basin is topped up; every low tide, the empty basin is emptied. These toppings-up and emptyings could be done either passively through sluices, or actively by pumps (using the trick mentioned above). Whenever power is required, water is allowed to flow from the full basin to the empty basin, or (better in power terms) between one of the basins and the sea. The capital cost of a two-basin scheme may be bigger because of the need for extra walls; the big win is that power is available all the time, so the facility can follow demand.
We can use power generated from the empty basin to pump extra water into the full basin at high tide, and similarly use power from the full basin to pump down the empty basin at low tide. This self-pumping would boost the total power delivered by the facility without ever needing to buy energy from the grid. It's a delightful feature of a two-pool solution that the optimal time to pump water into the high pool is high tide, which is also the optimal time to generate power from the low pool. Similarly, low tide is the perfect time to pump down the low pool, and it's the perfect time to generate power from the high pool. In a simple simulation, I've found that a two-lagoon system in a location with a natural tidal range of 4 m can, with an appropriate pumping schedule, deliver a steady power of 4.5 W/m2 (MacKay, 2007a). One lagoon's water level is always kept above mean sea-level; the other lagoon's level is always kept below mean sea-level. This power density of 4.5 W/m2 is 50% bigger than the maximum possible average power density of an ordinary tide-pool in the same lo-
cation (3W/m2). The steady power of the lagoon system would be more valuable than the intermittent and less-flexible power from the ordinary tide-pool.
A two-basin system could also function as a pumped-storage facility.
Was this article helpful?
Do we really want the one thing that gives us its resources unconditionally to suffer even more than it is suffering now? Nature, is a part of our being from the earliest human days. We respect Nature and it gives us its bounty, but in the recent past greedy money hungry corporations have made us all so destructive, so wasteful.