The renewable-power industry is one of the greatest showcases of human innovation and ingenuity, drawing energy from sources that are clean, free and infinite. It also seems to possess a flair for the dramatic. Like the proverbial magician pulling a rabbit out of a hat, it can find ways to draw power from what would seem to be the most unlikeliest of natural forces.
For example, while tidal power is a long way from producing the levels of electricity generated by wind and solar, one company in Portland, Maine, is undeterred.
For seven years, the small but determined Ocean Renewable Power Co. (ORPC) has been developing a proprietary technology that would harness the vast generating potential of tidal forces in the Bay of Fundy, located on the border between eastern Maine and Canada.
According to the company, 100 billion tons of water flow in and out of the bay every day with tidal ranges in excess of 50 feet. The company wants to harness the power of those currents, which it equates to the force of 8,000 locomotives.
ORPC’s Maine Tidal Energy Project would be the company’s first commercial power system. At the mouth of the bay, near the communities of Eastport and Lubec, the three-part project will deploy power systems in Cobscook Bay, at Kendall Head, and in Western Passage and will be connected to the New England power pool through the Bangor Hydro utility grid.
In the first half of 2012, with Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approval, OPRC will launch the project with the installation of the commercial TidGen Power System in Cobscook Bay. The company’s proprietary system is designed to generate power at depths of 50 to 100 feet with groups of turbines connected to an onshore substation through a single underwater transmission line. After a year of monitoring the system, the company will install additional power systems over the next three years, eventually bringing the project’s total capacity to 3 MW.
The company prides itself on working closely with local communities and developing systems and sites simultaneously, to accelerate the deployment of projects on-site once the technology is ready for commercial generation. ORPC estimates that more than 100 jobs have already been created in Maine in the initial phases of the project and that the total investment in the project could reach $1 billion.