Orbital Turbine Launches World’s Largest Tidal Turbine, What the Heck Is Tidal Power, Anyway? Climate Change Futurist Rachel Armstrong, and Green Architecture

by | May 13, 2021 | Podcasts, The Climate Daily

Orbital Turbine Launches the World’s Largest Tidal Turbine, plus what the heck Is tidal power, anyway? Climate change futurist Rachel Armstrong, and what the heck is green architecture, anyway?



Orbital Marine Power Ltd (Orbital), a Scottish-based developer of the world’s leading floating tidal turbine technology, announced the successful launch of its 2MW tidal turbine, the Orbital O2. It was launched from the Port of Dundee. The Orbital O2 is being hailed as the “World’s Most Powerful Tidal Turbine.” The Orbital O2 has the ability to generate enough clean, predictable electricity to meet the demand of around 2,000 UK homes and offset approximately 3,000 tons of CO2 production per year.  So what exactly is a tidal turbine, and why does it matter to us? 

Tidal turbines are similar to wind turbines in that they have blades that turn a rotor to power a generator. They can be placed on the sea floor where there is strong tidal flow. Tidal power or tidal energy is harnessed by converting energy from tides into useful forms of power, mainly electricity using various methods. Tides are more predictable than the wind and the sun. Because tides are affected by the moon and gravity, they’re considered a source of inexhaustible renewable energy.

John Alexander, Leader of Dundee City Council said: “I’m very proud of the role that Dundee has played in helping to deliver this pioneering tidal turbine. Orbital Marine’s incredible piece of engineering will play a pivotal role in showcasing this technology and helping Scotland to achieve its ambition in tackling the climate emergency, further propelling Dundee into a city which is transforming itself into a hub for renewables and innovation.”

DEEPER DIVE: IDTechX.com, Off-Grid Energy Independence, BusinessGreen.com, EIA.gov



The gravitational pull of the moon and sun along with the rotation of the earth create tides in the oceans. In some places, tides cause water levels near the shore to rise and fall up to 40 feet. Tidal power or tidal energy is harnessed by converting energy from tides into useful forms of power. It’s a technology that’s more than a thousand years old. There’s evidence that Europeans harnessed this movement of water to operate grain mills during the Middle Ages. and it’s reasonable to believe other coastal civilizations also developed tidal turbines or other similar forms of tidal turbine technology.

These are three major types of tidal energy systems:  

Type 1: Tidal barrages: A dam-like barrage is installed across an inlet of an ocean bay or lagoon that forms a tidal basin. A two-way tidal power system generates electricity from both the incoming and outgoing tides.

Type 2: Tidal turbines: Tidal turbines are similar to wind turbines in that they have blades that turn a rotor to power a generator. They can be placed on the sea floor where there is strong tidal flow. Because water is about 800 times denser than air, tidal turbines have to be much sturdier and heavier than wind turbines. Tidal turbines are more expensive to build than wind turbines but can capture more energy with the same size blades.

Type 3: Tidal fences: A tidal fence has vertical axis turbines mounted in a fence or row placed on the sea bed, similar to tidal turbines. Water passing through the turbines generates electricity. As of 2021, no tidal fence projects were operating. 

DEEPER DIVE: EIA.gov, Wikipedia, Maine.gov



I ran into Rachel Armstrong, professor of experimental architecture at Newcastle University, the other day. Not literally. Figuratively. She’s a pioneer of living architecture, an approach that explores how buildings can have some of the properties of natural systems. Rachel argues that by combining living systems with architecture, we can create more sustainable ways to design and build cities in the future. And she’s been making the case for living architecture since at least 2009, if the timestamp on her TED talk is accurate.

Pioneering what she calls “living architecture” – using metabolic materials such as protocells and micro-organisms to create “living” buildings that respond to their environment – Rachel seeks to invent a whole, new technology and paradigm of building. The potential applications run from revitalising contaminated areas to perhaps saving Venice from sinking into the sea. 

What is “living architecture”? Armstrong defines living architecture as constructing spaces that possess some of the properties of living things. Homes could grow, excrete, metabolise, defend us like an immune system, or make useful products. The goal is to drastically reduce the impacts of the  built environment on nature, so the best way to do that is to become as natural systems and participate in the flows of materials and resources shared by living things.

Armstrong sees a day when homes are made with soft technologies. Things like gels that are computers and compute through space and time with chemistry. What they can do is literally process molecular transformations so they can generate heat. Say, for example, you want to heat water: you would take a container – maybe it’s a ceramics container – and place the ceramics in the gel. The gel is a like a kind of compost that produces a lot of heat and maybe makes some other chemical transformation and can actually heat your ceramics container to boil your food or your water.

She also foresees the end of fossil-fuel and even electricity based cooking. In place of those old technologies Armstrong envisions enzyme-based cooking. “We could use enzymes a bit like the way the fly pre-digests its food. There would be a cuisine of predigestion, and I think it could be quite an exquisite and tasty form of cooking,” she says. It’s an intriguing concept.  Homes with young children or elderly people with various brain diseases needn’t worry about burn injuries or house fires. Rethinking how the natural systems that keep us alive actually connect with us in our homes is where Armstrong’s head is. Now yours can be too. 

I encourage everybody to check out Rachel’s TED talk. It’s a fascinating presentation of what human habitats could look like in 2100, as we adjust to climate change in harmony with nature. Just go to theclimate.org/episodes and click on the links in the Deeper Dive section of this episode.  

DEEPER DIVE: NextNature, SingularityHub,



What does GREEN architecture mean? At a high level, it means building designs that incorporate systems and energy cycles found in nature. This includes using urine, grey water and solid waste as catalysts to power a home or office building. If this sounds bizarre and too sci-fi for your dream rambler, let’s dial back to some here-and-now options one level down—Green Architecture: three tenets to green architecture:

  1. Optimize for Energy Efficiency

When you are building your home, there are many components that can be optimized for energy efficiency. Every part of your home should be reconsidered to push the boundaries of being eco friendly from inside the walls (Pipes and insulation) to appliances, insulation, and lighting. Eco-friendly versions of these components are becoming more and more available to purchase. The Climate Daily has already profiled German researchers working to make home insulation from mushrooms, for example.  

     2. Choose Sustainable Materials

Brick is a good choice because it produces little waste and lasts a long time. Engineered wood produces less waste than traditional wood, and plastic lumber is perfect for building weather-resistant decks and fences. Fiber cement siding is siding made of recycled wood scraps and cement.  

     3. Decrease Water Usage

When you are building your green home, water conservation should be at the forefront. Low-flush toilets, low-flow showerheads, rainwater irrigation, and porous sidewalks can reduce your home’s water waste, cut energy usage, and save you money. For more info, go to theclimate.org/episodes and click on the links in the Deeper Dive section of this episode.

DEEPER DIVE: NextNature, It’s Nice, That