Plants for the Distributed Generation: marine energy

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Energia dalle onde
by Maria Rosaria Barbato

In the last decade, new technologies have been developed to be installed in the marine environment, in order to produce electricity by exploiting the potential of waves, tides or currents. 

The sea offers many opportunities for the production of energy, some of which are distributed uniformly in our territory, while other are limited only in some areas. These can be summarized as follows: 

- Waves: kinetic energy transferred from the wind to the surface of the oceans; 

- Tides: the potential energy derived by the  lunar and solar gravitational attraction of the oceans; 

- Tidal currents: kinetic energy of marine currents derived by rising and lowering of the water column because of the tides; 

- Marine currents: kinetic energy of the currents due to the density difference between the water masses and / or the wind surface; 

- Temperature gradients: thermal energy derived from the temperature difference between the surface layers of the oceans directly heated by the sun and the deeper and cooler layers; 

- Gradient of salinity: osmotic power derived from the difference in salinity between the oceans and the fresh water present at the mouths of rivers. 

Although the detailed assessment of the marine energy resource is still at a preliminary stage, studies conducted by ENEA led to estimate that the theoretical potential energy of the sea in its various forms far exceeds the energy needs of the present entire world population. 

Italy, with its over 7000 km of coastline, may express an important role in the exploitation of the sea; the most interesting regions in terms of tidal currents are the Strait of Messina, which happens to be also the most "energetic", the lagoon of Venice, the Strait of Sicily and the Strait of Bonifacio in Sardinia. 

On the basis of the studies conducted on the devices currently installed worldwide, it is estimated that the energy conversion devices of the sea energy are characterized by low greenhouse gas emissions during the entire life cycle (construction, installation and maintenance) and that the environmental risks resulting from these technologies are relatively low. 

Furthermore, the exploitation of tidal currents offers the possibility to almost exactly asses the theoretical annual energy available at a site, overcoming the major limitation possessed by so-called "non programmable renewable sources".

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