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Green Jobs in Tidal and Marine-Based Energy

Tidal and marine-based energy may not be the first words off your tongue when asked about renewable energy. Even so, job-seekers should consider it in any green career transition plan. These facets of renewable energy provide an environmentally sustainable alternative that could be a huge player in the green economy of the future. In an eco-conscious job search, tidal and marine-based energy could be a gold mine of opportunity.

After all, the oceans, which cover 70 percent of the earth’s surface, are constantly in motion due to lunar phases, gravity, tides, wind, and solar heating of the water’s surface. That movement provides a promising source of renewable, non-polluting electricity. Energy can be pulled from oceans via tidal energy, wave power, ocean current energy, or ocean thermocline energy (OTEC).

The good news about tidal power is that the technology required to capture power from the ocean is well developed and is very similar to technology used by hydroelectric plants for the last 120 years. The more challenging part of the story is the construction itself. Oceanic projects require a large investment of time and money, with construction lasting as long as ten years. Nevertheless, companies, utilities, and governments are actively working on projects around the world. The location of the early adopters depends on the geological phenomenon needed to leverage each type of technology:

  • Tidal energy: Operating a tidal energy operation requires a difference of at least 7 meters between the low and the high tide. Several tidal power plants exist now on the northern coast of France, in the Bay of Fundy in Nova Scotia, near Murmansk in Russia, and several locations in China. Research studies point to several other promising locations, including Alaska, British Columbia, Washington, Maine, the Severn River in England, and the White Sea of Russia. If we could harness tidal power around the world, we could generate 64,000 MW of power.

  • Wave power: Wave power plants are most likely to be sited on western coastlines that experience fast series of pounding waves. In keeping with this fact, WaveGen built the first commercial-scale wave power plant in the Isle of Islay, Scotland. Other projects are underway around the globe in countries such as Portugal, Norway, the U.S., China, Japan, Australia, and India. The U.S. alone could produce 23 GW from wave power.

  • Ocean current energy: To capture energy from ocean currents, the current must be moving at 5 knots or more. Various areas around the world including the UK, Italy, Japan, the Philippines, the Florida Current, and the Gulf Stream are well suited for this industry. In 2000, Blue Energy, Inc., estimated the power from this energy source to exceed 450 GW.

  • Ocean thermocline energy (OTEC): This technology is typically most effective near the equator where the warm shallow waters around an island drop off dramatically to deep waters with cold temperatures. Although studied by scientists since the late 1800s, only a few plants have been constructed — off Hawaii, India, and Guam.

Although some ocean power technologies are more mature than others, the industry as a whole is still in early stages of development. While experts say that the ocean energy industry is where wind power was in the early 1980s (when many technical designs were in play and no clear indication of the ultimate direction of the industry was apparent), the ocean energy industry has a couple advantages over the early years of the wind industry. The cost per unit of energy is already competitive with wind, lower than solar, and expected to drop farther. In addition, the development of industry standards is progressing more quickly than in wind, shortening the time between product prototype and commercialization.

Here are some jobs that could be in demand in tidal and marine-based energy:

  • Mechanical engineers, control and instrumentation engineers, sustainable energy engineers, structural engineers, and geotechnical engineers build and maintain the power generation systems.

  • Oceanographer engineers, rivers and coastal engineers, marine ecologists, and hydraulic modelers are needed to identify the best locations for power technologies and to work with engineers on operations and maintenance issues.

  • Electrical designers, electric design managers, and software engineers manage the electricity generated by the power generation systems.

  • As new systems go online, workers must install, service, and maintain equipment. Diving and working underwater is likely a desired skill.

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