What Is Barrage Tidal Power?

With only a few operating plants globally (a large 240 MW plant on the Rance River, and two small plants, one on the Bay of Fundy and the other across a tiny inlet in Kislaya Guba Russia), the barrage method of extracting tidal energy involves building a barrage across a bay or river as in the case of the Rance tidal power plant in France. Turbines installed in the barrage wall generate power as water flows in and out of the estuary basin, bay, or river. These systems are similar to a hydro dam that produces Static Head or pressure head (a height of water pressure). When the water level outside of the basin or lagoon changes relative to the water level inside, the turbines are able to produce power. The largest such installation has been working on the Rance river, France, since 1966 with an installed (peak) power of 240 MW, and an annual production of 600 GWh (about 68 MW average power).[citation needed]

The basic elements of a barrage are caissons, embankments, sluices, turbines, and ship locks. Sluices, turbines, and ship locks are housed in caissons (very large concrete blocks).

Embankments seal a basin where it is not sealed by caissons.

The sluice gates applicable to tidal power are the flap gate, vertical rising gate, radial gate, and rising sector.

Barrage systems are affected by problems of high civil infrastructure costs associated with what is in effect a dam being placed across estuarine systems, and the environmental problems associated with changing a large ecosystem.

Ebb Generation

The basin is filled through the sluices until high tide. Then the sluice gates are closed. (At this stage there may be "Pumping" to raise the level further). The turbine gates are kept closed until the sea level falls to create sufficient head across the barrage, and then are opened so that the turbines generate until the head is again low. Then the sluices are opened, turbines disconnected and the basin is filled again. The cycle repeats itself. Ebb generation (also known as outflow generation) takes its name because generation occurs as the tide changes tidal direction. [edit]

Flood Generation

The basin is filled through the turbines, which generate at tide flood. This is generally much less efficient than ebb generation, because the volume contained in the upper half of the basin (which is where ebb generation operates) is greater than the volume of the lower half (filled first during flood generation). Therefore the available level difference — important for the turbine power produced — between the basin side and the sea side of the barrage, reduces more quickly than it would in ebb generation. Rivers flowing into the basin may further reduce the energy potential, instead of enhancing it as in ebb generation. Which of course is not a problem with the "lagoon" model, without river inflow.


Turbines are able to be powered in reverse by excess energy in the grid to increase the water level in the basin at high tide (for ebb generation). This energy is more than returned during generation, because power output is strongly related to the head. If water is raised 2 ft (61 cm) by pumping on a high tide of 10 ft (3 m), this will have been raised by 12 ft (3.7 m) at low tide. The cost of a 2 ft rise is returned by the benefits of a 12 ft rise.

Two-basin Schemes

Another form of energy barrage configuration is that of the dual basin type. With two basins, one is filled at high tide and the other is emptied at low tide. Turbines are placed between the basins. Two-basin schemes offer advantages over normal schemes in that generation time can be adjusted with high flexibility and it is also possible to generate almost continuously. In normal estuarine situations, however, two-basin schemes are very expensive to construct due to the cost of the extra length of barrage. There are some favourable geographies, however, which are well suited to this type of scheme.

Environmental Impact

The placement of a barrage into an estuary has a considerable effect on the water inside the basin and on the ecosystem. Many governments have been reluctant in recent times to grant approval for tidal barrages. Environmental impacts of tidal plants in the United States are difficult to measure because there are currently no US tidal plants. However, through research conducted on tidal plants in other parts of the world, it has been found that tidal barrages constructed at the mouths of estuaries pose similar environmental threats as large dams. The construction of large tidal plants alters the flow of saltwater in and out of estuaries, which changes the hydrology and salinity and possibly negatively affects the marine mammals that use the estuaries as their habitat The La Rance plant, off the Brittany coast of northern France, was the first and largest tidal barrage plant in the world. It is also the only site where a full-scale evaluation of the ecological impact of a tidal power system, operating for 20 years, has been made.

French researchers found that the isolation of the estuary during the construction phases of the tidal barrage was detrimental to flora and fauna, however; after ten years, there has been a “variable degree of biological adjustment to the new environmental conditions”

Some species lost their habitat due to La Rance’s construction, but other species colonized the abandoned space, which caused a shift in diversity. Also as a result of the construction, sandbanks disappeared, the beach of St. Servan was badly damaged and high-speed currents have developed near sluices, which are water channels controlled by gates.


Turbidity (the amount of matter in suspension in the water) decreases as a result of smaller volume of water being exchanged between the basin and the sea. This lets light from the Sun to penetrate the water further, improving conditions for the phytoplankton. The changes propagate up the food chain, causing a general change in the ecosystem.

Tidal Fences and Turbines

Tidal fences and turbines can have varying environmental impacts depending on whether or not fences and turbines are constructed with regard to the environment. The main environmental impact of turbines is their impact on fish. If the turbines are moving slowly enough, such as low velocities of 25-50 rpm, fish kill is minimalized and silt and other nutrients are able to flow through the structures [34] For example, a 20kW tidal turbine prototype built in the St. Lawrence Seaway in 1983 reported no fish kills [34] Tidal fences block off channels, which makes it difficult for fish and wildlife to migrate through those channels. In order to reduce fish kill, fences could be engineered so that the spaces between the caisson wall and the rotor foil are large enough to allow fish to pass through. Larger marine mammals such as seals or dolphins can be protected from the turbines by fences or a sonar sensor auto-breaking system that automatically shuts the turbines down when marine mammals are detected. Overall, many researches have argued that while tidal barrages pose environmental threats, tidal fences and tidal turbines, if constructed properly, are likely to be more environmentally benign. Unlike barrages, tidal fences and turbines do not block channels or estuarine mouths, interrupt fish migration or alter hydrology, thus, these options offer energy generating capacity without dire environmental impacts.


As a result of less water exchange with the sea, the average salinity inside the basin decreases, also affecting the ecosystem. "Tidal Lagoons" do not suffer from this problem.

Sediment Movements

Estuaries often have high volume of sediments moving through them, from the rivers to the sea. The introduction of a barrage into an estuary may result in sediment accumulation within the barrage, affecting the ecosystem and also the operation of the barrage.


Fish may move through sluices safely, but when these are closed, fish will seek out turbines and attempt to swim through them. Also, some fish will be unable to escape the water speed near a turbine and will be sucked through. Even with the most fish-friendly turbine design, fish mortality per pass is approximately 15% (from pressure drop, contact with blades, cavitation, etc.). Alternative passage technologies (fish ladders, fish lifts, etc.) have so far failed to solve this problem for tidal barrages, either offering extremely expensive solutions, or ones which are used by a small fraction of fish only. Research in sonic guidance of fish is ongoing. The Open-Centre turbine reduces this problem allowing fish to pass through the open centre of the turbine.

Recently a run of the river type turbine has been developed in France. This basically is a very large slow rotating Kaplan type turbine mounted on an angle. Testing for fish mortality has indicated much lower mortality figures, less than 5%. This concept seems very suitable for adaption to marine current/tidal turbines also.

Energy Calculations

The energy available from barrage is dependent on the volume of water. The potential energy contained in a volume of water is:

E =1/2 * A * p * g * h^2


h is the vertical tidal range,

A is the horizontal area of the barrage basin,

ρ is the density of water = 1025 kg per cubic meter (seawater varies between 1021 and 1030 kg per cubic meter) and

g is the acceleration due to the Earth's gravity = 9.81 meters per second squared.

The factor half is due to the fact, that as the basin flows empty through the turbines, the hydraulic head over the dam reduces. The maximum head is only available at the moment of low water, assuming the high water level is still present in the basin. [edit]

Example calculation of tidal power generation


Let us assume that the tidal range of tide at a particular place is 32 feet = 10 m (approx)

The surface of the tidal energy harnessing plant is 9 km² (3 km × 3 km)= 3000 m × 3000 m = 9 × 106 m2

Specific density of sea water = 1025.18 kg/m3

Mass of the water = volume of water × specific gravity

= (area × tidal range) of water × mass density

= (9 × 106 m2 × 10 m) × 1025.18 kg/m3

= 92 × 109 kg (approx)

Potential energy content of the water in the basin at high tide

= ½ × area × density × gravitational acceleration × tidal range squared

= ½ × 9 × 106 m2 × 1025 kg/m3 × 9.81 m/s2 × (10 m)2

=4.5 × 1012 J (approx)

Now we have 2 high tides and 2 low tides every day. At low tide the potential energy is zero.

Therefore the total energy potential per day = Energy for a single high tide × 2

= 4.5 × 1012 J × 2

= 9 × 1012 J

Therefore, the mean power generation potential = Energy generation potential / time in 1 day

= 9 × 1012 J / 86400 s

= 104 MW

Assuming the power conversion efficiency to be 30%: The daily-average power generated= 104 MW * 30% / 100%

= 31 MW (approx)

A barrage is best placed in a location with very high-amplitude tides. Suitable locations are found in Russia, USA, Canada, Australia, Korea, the UK. Amplitudes of up to 17 m (56 ft) occur for example in the Bay of Fundy, where tidal resonance amplifies the tidal range.


Tidal barrage power schemes have a high capital cost and a very low running cost. As a result, a tidal power scheme may not produce returns for many years, and investors may be reluctant to participate in such projects.

Governments may be able to finance tidal barrage power, but many are unwilling to do so also due to the lag time before investment return and the high irreversible commitment. For example the energy policy of the United Kingdom recognizes the role of tidal energy and expresses the need for local councils to understand the broader national goals of renewable energy in approving tidal projects. The UK government itself appreciates the technical viability and siting options available, but has failed to provide meaningful incentives to move these goals forward.

Mathematical Modelling of Tidal Schemes

In mathematical modelling of a scheme design, the basin is broken into segments, each maintaining its own set of variables. Time is advanced in steps. Every step, neighbouring segments influence each other and variables are updated.

The simplest type of model is the flat estuary model, in which the whole basin is represented by one segment. The surface of the basin is assumed to be flat, hence the name. This model gives rough results and is used to compare many designs at the start of the design process.

In these models, the basin is broken into large segments (1D), squares (2D) or cubes (3D). The complexity and accuracy increases with dimension.

Mathematical modelling produces quantitative information for a range of parameters, including:

* Water levels (during operation, construction, extreme conditions, etc.)

* Currents

* Waves

* Power output

* Turbidity

* Salinity

* Sediment movements

Global Environmental Impact

A tidal power scheme is a long-term source of electricity. A proposal for the Severn Barrage, if built, has been projected to save 18 million tonnes of coal per year of operation. This decreases the output of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

If fossil fuel resources decline during the 21st century, as predicted by Hubbert peak theory, tidal power is one of the alternative sources of energy that will need to be developed to satisfy the human demand for energy.


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