Rising Tides

Note: Please welcome our newest author, Kat Statman.  Kat is a 2L at W&L and he is particularly interested in tidal and offshore energy production.

The past year or so has seen a boom in tidal energy projects throughout the United States (and world for that matter). It is increasingly clear in the alternative energy field that use of the energy created from tides and running water (clearly one of the oldest forms of harnessing water energy) may be part of the solution to green energy needs in addition to solar and wind power.

Particularly in the last year the US has seen a big push for tidal energy. In Oregon  the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approved the installation of 10 generators about two and a half miles offshore from the city of Reedsport.

The generators used there are made by Ocean Power Technologies and it is predicted that the 10 generators will have the capacity to power 1,000 homes. While the buoy system that Ocean Power Technologies has developed was set to be in place in October, due to ocean and weather conditions they expected much later in the year they have postponed the launch date until spring 2013.

Regardless, it is clear that the tidal energy market is booming. Ocean Power Technologies has also recently entered an agreement with Mitsui Engineering and Shipbuilding in Japan. This move will be a significant expansion for the New Jersey company and is a sure sign that the market for tidal energy is strong and pervasive at an international level.

Oregon and Japan are not the only two locations that are seeing a boom for the industry. In September, Ocean Renewable Power Company (ORPC) issued a press release that they are successfully running their turbine in Cobscook Bay Maine. Not only is the generator successfully running, it is hooked up to the grid (the first instance of an offshore renewable source that has been grid connected in both North and South America). While the turbine only has the capacity to power 25 to 30 homes, the capability of producing more substantial amounts exists.

Other projects of note are the successful tests of the Roosevelt Island Tidal Energy (RITE) Project in the New York’s East River by Verdant Energy. They received an FERC license in January 2012 and are in the final stages of the project. After a number of initial tests, including successfully powering the grocery store on Roosevelt Island (a small residential community of New York City), and being the first to successfully connect to a grid system in their second phase of testing between 2006 and 2009, things are very positive for the company and the ambitious project. Verdant has high hopes for the success of the project and believes that they will be able to power 9,500 homes between Manhattan and Queens.

One thing that is of particular note, by looking at the map provided by the FERC on proposed and possible Tidal Energy projects, New York City has a disproportionate number of proposed projectes compared to much of the Eastern United States sea board. This may be in part due to Mayor Bloomberg’s strong insistence on the importance of clean energy and global warming.

Since Hurricane Sandy only a few weeks ago, it is clear that Mayor Bloomberg will not be making an about face on issues of green technology but rather pushing  further on. If the tidal projects are as successful as the tests seem to indicate and the international market’s push for them is indicating, it is likely that our coasts will be littered with different forms of turbines (come back for a later post on the different types and the effects they may have on the environment as well as their efficiency in converting tidal energy into electricity).

However, while this rise in tidal energy technology is exciting for clean energy advocates there are other competing concerns that must also be considered. The New York Times noted in September while discussing the Oregon projects that local fisherman are concerned that if the technology is adopted too rapidly that it will affect the salmon populations ability to enter the rivers for breeding. In Maine there have been concerns about the aesthetics of the turbines and the fact that they will affect the pristine nature of the Maine coast.

There are also specific legal concerns that will arise in the area of Maritime and Insurance law. The turbines must be connected to the ocean floor in some way. If it is a buoy energy producer it would through a cable or a more traditional turbine as in the RITE project by direct placement on the ocean floor. Therefore, the locations of the turbines will have to be known and reported to ship captains in order to avoid any allisions.

There are other difficulties highlighted by the Oregon projects delays until the spring of 2013. All of the buoys or turbines will have to be connected to the grid via underwater cables. However, if something severs a cable and the ocean conditions are not safe for a crew to repair the cable, then the grid can lose a significant source of energy depending on how the connection to the grid is established.

Like with all technological advances there will be growing pains, however, tidal energy looks like a positive move forward in the clean energy sector and one that the market is showing respect and admiration for.

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