Despite Costs Challenges, U.S. DOE Makes $116M Tidal Power Push

The highly predictable and massive tides in the eastern most city in the U.S. – Eastport, Maine – have set the stage for an experiment in renewable energy that could change the face of America’s energy future in the next two decades, according to a PBS report.

Chris Sauer, CEO of the Ocean Renewable Power Company, installed an underwater turbine last summer 2,220 feet from the shore in the Eastport Bay in Maine. It turns the tides into clean, renewable energy. Because tides are so predictable he can tell you exactly how much energy will be produced 20 years from today.

The $21 million dollar project was funded by private and public sources, including an August 30 grant of $5 million from the U.S. DOE, part of a $16 million investment in 17 projects to specifically capture energy from waves, tides, and currents. It’s the first commercial tidal energy project delivering power to the grid anywhere in the U.S.

Ocean Renewable Power Company – and ocean power more generally – have come a long way since their beginnings. In 2007, the three-year-old company failed to procure $14 million in funding it was seeking, according to a 2007 Venture Beat article. Now power from natural water sources seems poised for a boom.

Today power from water comes almost entirely from dams, and provided about 7% of the country’s electricity needs. The DOE estimates that number will more than double by the year 2030; eventually a third of the nation’s electricity could come from ocean energy.

So optimistic is the U.S. Energy Department about ocean power, it has invested about $116 million in dozens of hydrokinetic waterpower projects over the past six years, including a pilot project to capture energy from the strong currents of New York City’s East River; a buoy system to convert wave energy into electricity in Oregon; and Ocean Renewable Power Company’s (ORPC) tidal turbine in Maine; into which the Energy Department also invested $10 million dollars in 2010.

New York–based Verdant Power has raised $33 million from investors for its underwater hydro technology, including the project in New York City’s East River, where the company expects to have 30 turbines generating 35 kilowatts of energy in five years, says the New York Times. Verdant received $2.2 million in 2008 from the Ontario government for a project in the St. Lawrence River, and last July an undisclosed VC gave the firm $575,000 for an unnamed hydro power project.

Although tidal power is highly dependable, it isn’t generating abundant electricity at the moment. The ORPC project generates energy for just 25 homes. (However, the hope is that as the technology improves and successes can be replicated with bigger units, ocean power will become both more efficient and less expensive – and more competitive with other renewable sources.)

To change that ORPC plans to deploy 18 more turbine generators at two different sites around Eastport within five years, John Ferland, vice president of project development, told the Bangor Daily News.

ORPC is developing three products, all based on the technology of its turbine generator. One is for river sites, another for estuarine and tidal waters up to 150 feet deep, and a third for tidal and ocean locations over 150 feet deep, which are suited for deep water and irregular ocean bottoms, like portions of the Western Passage. The goal is to achieve price parity by the year 2020.

To view the full PBS report cited in this story, click here

To read the Bangor Daily News article cited in this story, click here

To read the New York Times article cited in this story, click here

To read the Venture Beat article cited in this story, click here


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