Both wave and tidal energy devices have raised various concerns about their interactions with the environment. For example, some issues common to both include the disruption of the marine habitat through installation and operation of marine devices, the generation of electromagnetic fields from undersea cables as well as the potential for devices to prove aesthetically unpleasing to coastal communities 9. The installation of devices through methods such as dredging, or drilling can disturb the surrounding environment 17, 1, 9. Other issues include biofouling caused by seaweeds which could impact both performance levels as well as reduce the lifespan of devices 1,9. WEC structures may also act as artificial reefs. While this could have potential positive impacts, there are also several concerns with it including the interference with the surrounding environment, as well as possibly promoting the introduction of invasive species 1. Other issues that are associated with tidal current energy are possible interactions between marine animals and turbine blades, pollution caused by various substances such as the paint used to reduce biofouling as well as the hydraulic fluids which could potentially leak and pollute the surrounding area. Turbine devices also cause issues with the wave and tidal patterns as well as possibly affecting the benthic habitat 9.
Most environmental issues will be resolved over the long term as increased research and knowledge about the marine environment allows for the safer installation of devices. However, for the time being, funding should be directed to groups conducting research on the potential environmental impacts of marine energy and possible solutions 12. Environmental groups along with academia, marine biologists, marine ecologists, engineers, industry, government and other interested parties should work in collaboration with one another to conduct research in this area in order to find solutions that work for everyone.
Marine energy is a source of renewable energy that has recently become a subject of interest due to its potential for future markets. It is predicted, that if harnessed effectively, marine energy could provide up to a quarter of the world’s renewable energy sources in the foreseeable future 10. However, although it has great potential, marine energy is not a developed form of renewable energy as compared to wind or solar. This is mainly due to the number of challenges being faced, including: negative device-environmental interactions, cost of design installation and maintenance, lack of design consensus (WECs) and problems with grid connection/power control ; output 1,9. In order to resolve many of these issues and to ensure that marine energy can reach an advanced stage, there needs to be an increased focus on various research projects that will help to improve on the existing problems by developing solutions through methods such as cost-sharing with other industries to eliminate many costs 12, increased research and knowledge sharing with other industries to improve grid connection, integration and power takeoff 18, as well as research to develop a better understanding of the marine environment 12 and the development of devices that will be both durable and reliable. Undertaking these procedures will pave the way for marine energy to reach its full potential as a major source of global renewable energy.