Tidal energy

Photo credit: Tom

Photo credit: Tom

The world is slowing down! According to Max Tegmark, in his book ‘Our Mathematical Universe’, the rotational velocity of the Earth is being reduced as some of its kinetic energy is dissipated as tidal energy. It is possible to estimate the age of planet from the rate of slow down by assuming that at its birth it was spinning as fast as possible without the centrifugal forces pulling it apart. The answer turns out to be about 4 to 5 billion years which roughly agrees with radioactive dating of the oldest rocks in Western Australia and bits of meteorites that imply the solar system came into being about 4.5 billion years ago.

So does this imply that tidal energy is not really a renewable energy source? I think it is just an issue of timescale. Fossil fuels are seen as non-renewable because the formation of coal and oil substrates happens on geological timescales. Biomass is a bit quicker because we skip the fossilisation process and renewal is measured in months. Fossil fuels and biomass are both ways of storing solar energy in chemical bonds. Nature is much better at converting and storing solar energy than mankind. But, solar energy would appear to be the ultimate renewable energy source. Every morning its there, though often hidden by cloud where I live. The sun will eventually die but again this won’t happen anytime soon but on a long geological timescale.


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