A historic moment for clean power: Ocean underwater turbine

Maine: ocean energy project

Maine: ocean energy project

Since September 13, 2012, an enormous underwater turbine in Maine’s Cobscook Bay began sending power inland to the Bangor Hydro electrical utility grid. It was a historic moment for clean power: the first commercial-scale, grid-connected tidal energy generator anywhere in the USA.

Consistent energy

The principle of a tidal energy generator is the same as that of a wind turbine; but unlike the winds, tides and currents are predictable and consistent. But the Ocean Renewable Power Company (ORPC) isn’t just creating clean power in a predictable way. It’s also doing so in a way that’s environmentally sound. Two annual assessments found that, vast though it is, the turbine has had ‘no known adverse impacts’ on Cobscook Bay’s aquaculture industry, its resident bald eagles, marine life, or sediment transportation. The turbine didn’t even make enough noise to rise above the ambient level.

Still one of the most innovative energy firms of the world

The U.S. Department of Energy funded $10 million of the Cobscook Bay project’s initial $21 million budget and has given ORPC a $5 million grant to work on version 2.0 of the turbine. Fast Company recently named the company one of the world’s most innovative energy firms.

ORPC president and CEO Chris Sauer: “When we have no energy policy in the U.S., investors have no idea where we’re headed. Between that, the financial meltdown of 2008, and the current low price of natural gas, there are no early-stage investors in the green space anymore, no venture money, no bank money.”

Alaska: ocean energy turbine

Alaska: ocean energy turbine

Energy from rivers

For now, the team is working on improving the turbine design and developing a companion version that can be powered by rivers. That one will be piloted in Alaska this summer, before heading for testing in southern Chile.

Specs

The underwater turbine is:

  • 98-foot-long
  • 17-foot-high
  • 17-foot-wide
  • push-powered lawn mower
  • weighing 80,000 pounds

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