Ocean energy flows to US grid for first time

For the first time, power from the ocean is making its way onto a U.S. grid.

Ocean Renewable Power Company said Thursday that Bangor Hydro Electric Company had confirmed that electricity was flowing from ORPC’s Cobscook Bay Tidal Project in Maine.

“This is the first power from any ocean energy project including offshore wind, wave and tidal, to be delivered to an electric utility grid in the United States, and it is the only ocean energy project, other than one using a dam, that delivers power to a utility grid anywhere in North, Central and South America,” ORPC said.

Indeed, it was the milestone nature of the tidal power project that made it significant, not the actual power being delivered. At peak output, the TidGen converter puts out 180 kilowatts. Over the course of a year, with production rising and falling with the tides, it is expected to generate enough electricity to meet the needs of 25 to 30 homes.

“This historic moment elevates the U.S. to the world stage,” ORPC President and CEO Chris Sauer said in a statement. “We are now ready to bring our tidal energy power systems and expertise to the international market.”

That’s the longer-term hope, but more immediately – in the fall of 2013 – ORPC hopes to install two more TidGen devices. The Maine Tidal Energy Project ultimately is planned to generate 4 MW of power as it expands from Cobscook Bay to include tidal energy sites in Western Passage and Kendall Head, Maine.

The company says these areas, fed by the 50-foot tides of the Bay of Fundy on the border between eastern Maine and Canada, is an extraordinary tidal energy resource, with tides that rise and fall 16-to-25 feet at an average velocity of 5.6 knots.

While tidal power has now become a reality on the East Coast of the United States, the West Coast is on the precipice of seeing its first wave energy converter deployed: In earlier October, Ocean Power Technologies is aiming to put the first of 10 planned 150-kilowatt PowerBuoys in the Pacific, a few miles off the coast near Reedsport, Ore. 

The precise date of the deployment remains dependent on the weather — not because the PowerBuoy would be at risk, but in order to ensure the safety of the crew moving the buoy from Portland down the Columbia River to the Pacific, and then some 200 miles down the coast.

But here’s an important, little-mentioned point about the OPT project: According the company’s license from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, that first PowerBuoy will need to get “at least one season of monitoring” before “the additional nine PowerBuoys will be installed and connected to the grid.” OPT confirmed this in an interview yesterday: Energy from the Pacific won’t be feeding the Oregon grid until fall 2013, at the earliest.

* Pete Danko, EarthTechling