February 16, 2024
Journal Article

Tidal energy extraction modifies tidal asymmetry and transport in a shallow, well-mixed estuary


Tidal energy extraction is increasingly being studied as a potential renewable energy resource in estuaries worldwide. Although it is understood that energy extraction via tidal stream turbines can modify currents and transport within estuaries, it is not clear how the underlying nonlinear physical mechanisms dictating tidal hydrodynamics are modulated. This research investigates the influence of a hypothetical tidal stream turbine array on barotropic tidal processes in a shallow, well-mixed system: the Piscataqua River – Great Bay (PRGB) estuary, using a numerical model. The modeled turbine farm includes 180 turbines which would extract an estimated 44.7 GWh of energy, annually. The tidal hydrodynamic model for the existing condition is validated with in-situ observations of currents and water level before analyzing tidal asymmetry and transport with and without tidal turbines. Results indicate that the tidal turbine array will decrease tidal elevation and current magnitudes system-wide, but generally reduce ebb currents and transport more than flood over most of the estuary footprint, thereby diminishing tidal asymmetry. The smaller asymmetric distortion compared to the no-turbine case is attributed to reductions in the storage volume of water over the estuary’s extensive tidal flat regions between low and high waters which decreases the associated nonlinear intertidal storage mechanism up to 25%. This leads to weakened ebb dominance over estuary sections from the mouth to mid-reaches, where depths are deep enough to keep the combined nonlinear shallow water and frictional effects from asserting control over the storage mechanism. Even in upstream shallow regions where depth-dependent friction controls asymmetry in both cases, the frictional mechanism is reduced only by 10% with turbines. Some environmental considerations of this work are discussed, with focus on sediment transport, water quality, and ecology.

Published: February 16, 2024


Spicer P.S., Z. Yang, T. Wang, and M. Deb. 2023. Tidal energy extraction modifies tidal asymmetry and transport in a shallow, well-mixed estuary. Frontiers in Marine Science 10. PNNL-SA-186613. doi:10.3389/fmars.2023.1268348