Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Tidal power – the earliest proposal?

Is this the earliest instance of a scientist advocating tidal power as an alternative to burning fossil fuels?

A book published in London in 1874 calls attention to “the stupendous reservoir of power that the tidal waters constitute, a form of power which has not as yet been sufficiently called into operation, but which may be invoked by-and-by, when we have begun to feel more acutely the consequences of our present prodigal use of the fuel that was stored up for us by bountiful nature ages upon ages ago.”
The book is “The Moon: considered as a planet, a world, and a satellite” by James Nasmyth &  James Carpenter.
Other benefits of tides are that they clean the ocean shores, and move ships up and down the Thames which otherwise would consume steam. For the port of London alone, the authors claim this represents a money value “reckoned in millions sterling, seeing that if our river was tideless all transport would have to be done by manual or steam power”. (p 188).
I read this book in the British Library on 21st June.  It contains amazing illustrations of the Moon which you could swear were taken from an orbiting satellite but which are actually photographs of clay models, themselves based on drawings made in the course of 30 years of observing.


  1. Well I never. I didn't know that about moving ships up and down the Thames either. Does that mean that each day there was a few hours when ships moved up river, and a few hours when they moved down river? Hang on, even as I write that I realise it's daft - the river always flows towards the sea, no matter what the tide.

  2. It occurs to me I'm not entirely sure myself! A tidal river refers to the stretch of a river whose flow and level is influenced by tides, and I think this means that the incoming tide really does “flow” up the Thames, effectively reversing the river's direction for a few hours, until the tide reaches the place where the river’s level is higher.