Team studies tidal and wave energy potential in southern Chile

Oceanographers and engineers are studying water patterns in southern Chile’s Canal de Chacao, looking to determine apt locations for water turbines.

A team of international scientists, oceanographers, and engineers visited Chile this February in order to study the feverish currents of the southern Canal de Chacao. The team’s goal was to pave a path towards sustainable wave and tidal energy production.

“We are here in Chile to measure the turbulence as the tides rush through the Canal de Chacao,” oceanographer for the Applied Physics Lab at the University of Washington Jim Thomson wrote about his involvement with the research. “That turbulence will be a key driver for the design of underwater turbines that may one day harness the power of those currents to make electricity.”

While Chile has honed in on its solar power and wind potential, the country – like many places in the world – is just beginning to figure out how to harness the ocean’s tremendous energy. The Canal de Chacao, which divides mainland Chile from the Chiloé Archipelago, is the perfect place to start exploring this new technology as the canal has the third strongest energy current in the world, about 2,000 megawatts of energy.

The Canal de Chacao could be just the beginning, however; Chile’s massive coastline holds the potential for much more.

“Even if only 10 percent of this renewable resource (tidal and wave energy) is harnessed, it would exceed the existing installed capacity of Chile’s central electricity grid, or SIC,” the Global Energy Network Institute published in a 2011 study.

Maricarmen Guerra París, a civil engineer involved with the Canal de Chacao research team, explained how the Chilean government was interested in taking an active role in wave and tidal energy.

“The Energy Ministry and also the Environmental Ministry are willing to work and advance in this area, in order to install the first tidal and wave energy devices in Chile,” París told the Santiago Times. “We also think that Chile has the potential to be a leader in Latin America in marine energy extraction, both wave and tidal.”