EASTPORT, Maine — A first-generation, Maine-built tidal energy turbine is a cover girl, adorning the front of Popular Science magazine’s June 2013 issue, which hit newsstands this week.
For years, Portland-based Ocean Renewable Power Co. has been engineering, fabricating and testing underwater tidal generation technology in waters off the Washington County community of Eastport. The company has been working to perfect techniques and technologies required to transform the inherent energy of the powerful currents associated with the Bay of Fundy’s massive tides into grid-ready electricity.
Since last September, ORPC’s TidGen pilot project has been providing the first power from any ocean energy project to the Bangor Hydro electrical utility grid.
Popular Science showcases the project with these observations:
“Tidal currents are among the most predictable energy sources on Earth. Until recently, the only way to capture their power was to construct massive dams that impeded the flow of water, often in sensitive marine areas. The TidGen, developed by the Ocean Renewable Power Company (ORPC), sits at the bottom of a free-flowing deep river or bay instead. The company installed its first commercial unit in Maine’s Cobscook Bay last summer, and it began delivering electricity to the U.S. grid shortly thereafter. A TidGen can produce up to 150 kW, or enough electricity to power 25 homes, but ORPC plans to add 5 megawatts of capacity within three to five years.”
The Popular Science assessment also makes note of the difference in the physics between the generating capacity of wave action versus tidal action.
“Wave energy is more evenly distributed across the globe than tidal currents, but it’s also more violent,” the story reads in part. “Generators floating on the surface of the ocean must function while being thrashed around. London-based 40South Energy built a wave-energy converter that cleverly avoids abuse. It remains submerged in the water column, automatically adjusting its depth to find optimal conditions and dodge rough storms. The machine generates energy as its top half, attached to a suspended platform, pulls against the bottom half, moored to the seafloor. 40South plans to deploy its first commercial unit, the 150-kilowatt R115, near Tuscany, Italy, this summer. It’s also developing a 2-megawatt version and setting up pilot wave-energy parks in India, Italy and the U.K.”
Deployment of ORPC’s 80,000-pound turbine assembly followed millions of dollars of investment over eight years of design, fabrication and testing. ORPC research and development plans include submerging two similar turbine arrays some time this year. The company intends to place 24 underwater turbines in the Western Passage of the Bay of Fundy in 2014.