Undersea Turbine Company Wins $5.3 Million

undersea turbines
Jesse Remillard, ERS, for Zondits

In a small, coastal Maine town near the border of Canada, a group called the Ocean Renewable Power Company (ORPC) has been testing undersea turbines to generate power from the large tidal flows characteristic of the area. The units, which resemble vertical wind turbines, are undergoing testing to further refine their design. ORPC currently offers a modular unit, which can produce up to 600 kW of power and can be linked side by side with up to three other units for a total maximum power output of 2,400 kW.

ORPC is also developing an exciting new solution that would utilize a floating wing, or pod, to moor their turbines at the surface of the water. This would enable their units to be deployed in water hundreds of feet deep and still access higher speed tidal and ocean currents near the surface of the ocean. ORPC also claims that deploying the systems at the surface of the ocean would reduce installation and maintenance costs, thereby reducing overall energy generation costs.

On August 30, 2016, it was announced that ORPC won a grant of $5.3 million to improve and commercialize its floating tidal turbine system through the integration of several advanced component technologies. The grant is part of a total package of $20 million that the US Department of Energy (DOE) is distributing to support the development of marine and hydrokinetic (MHK) energy systems.

Recent studies conducted by the DOE indicated that there is between 900 and 1,230 terawatt-hours (TWh) per year of recoverable energy available from waves. This represents the potential to power upwards of 90 million average US homes with wave energy.

This is an exciting investment in renewable power generation, especially for such a small Maine town. Maine’s own US Senators, Susan Collins and Angus King, said in a joint statement, “By developing innovative and groundbreaking methods for generating clean, renewable energy, we will help ensure a reliable, affordable power supply, and that our environment is preserved for future generations. We look forward to continuing to support ORPC and its talented team of researchers as they work to develop its promising technology.”


Eastport Update: Electric Power From the Sea

The Atlantic, September 2, 2016

Early in 2014, I wrote a magazine article about the 1,300 residents of Eastport, Maine, with the title “The Little Town That Might.” The theme was that this tiny settlement, on the farthest extreme of Down East Maine just one mile across a strait from Canada’s famous Campobello Island, was trying in every conceivable way to invent a viable economic and cultural future for itself.

It was becoming a major salmon-farming locale, in addition to its lobster and scallop industries. An indefatigable group of local citizens pursued plans to redevelop beautiful-but-tattered buildings downtown. And on through a list that you can read about in that article and a number of accompanying posts.

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There was one more element in the portfolio of Eastport ambitions: a plan to generate electricity from the powerful currents of its Passamaquoddy and Cobscook Bays, which feed into the adjoining and famously tidal Bay of Fundy.

It had invested heavily in its very deep-water port (because of the Maine fjords, it is the deepest on the U.S. Atlantic coast) to handle shipments to customers around the world. It was making itself into an arts and tourism center, including whale-watching and other eco-tourism activities along its spectacular coast.

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