A province prepares for prime time on the alternative-energy stage.
sea change is under way in Atlantic Canada, particularly in the Bay of Fundy between New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. If tidal energy projects there are successful in generating electricity, as indications suggest, then the region may be on the cusp of becoming an alternative energy hub. The economic and environmental ramifications are significant. Economically, energy services companies will cluster in cities near the underwater systems that use tidal currents to produce electricity. On the environmental side, coal-based electricity, especially in Nova Scotia, will give way to renewable power, which needs to happen soon, one way or another. The province is required by law to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 10 percent below 1990 levels and to generate 20 percent of its electricity with renewable sources by 2013.
In partnership with the province of Nova Scotia, three companies – Clean Current, Minas Basis Pulp and Power and Nova Scotia Power – using three different technologies are working to demonstrate the efficacy of their systems in Nova Scotia's Minas Basin, and other projects are getting under way. Irving Oil is exploring the feasibility of tidal power development on the New Brunswick side of the Bay, even as it plans a new, 300,000-barrel-per-day oil refinery near Saint John. Still another system is in testing across the Atlantic that will soon be installed in Canadian waters.
"Our mission is to see hundreds of tidal turbines in the waters of the Bay of Fundy and beyond within the next five or 10 years," says Ron Scott, president of Halifax-based Maritime Tidal Energy Corp. The company is partnered with Marine Current Turbines, based in Bristol, U.K., which Scott says has the world's leading tidal stream technology. The company recently completed installation of its 1.2-MW SeaGen tidal energy turbine system in Northern Ireland's Strangford Narrows.
"That's the technology we want to use in the Bay of Fundy and beyond," says Scott. "If this demonstration goes well, then we will have a unit that is grid connected and has a power agreement and therefore is a commercial unit, and we should know if that's going well within the next two to three months." MCT then plans to expand the demonstration to a farm of seven units in The Skerries in Wales. "We'd like to follow that with an installation of about 20 units in the Bay of Fundy in the 2012 timeframe," says Scott.
Tidal energy projects are one form of ocean energy project
, and some tidal power plants already exist. But new technologies, the Bay of Fundy's unique topography and new financial resources from provincial and other entities are combining to drive this particular renewable energy into the passing lane.
Research has shown that the Bay of Fundy is home to the best tidal currents in the world. About 14 billion tons of water flow in and out of the Minas Basin alone every six and a quarter hours at up to 8 knots in places, says Scott. "It's big, it's powerful, and it's in our backyard," he says. "We've got the technology now coming onto the market, so let's get on with it. We don't want to burn any more coal. Tidal energy systems are like an oil well, only it produces no carbon dioxide, and it never runs dry."
"Systems might be commercially viable elsewhere, but companies bring them here to test them," adds Matt Lumley, communications advisor at Nova Scotia's Dept. of Energy.
Wave of the Future
Nova Scotia already has an offshore energy industry with about 400 service and supply companies, so some expertise is already in place. But large-scale commercial development of tidal energy will require specialized R&D, manufacturing, maintenance and related companies, resulting in significant energy-industry investment.
"Ocean energy is going to be big in the future," says Scott, and Halifax is the right place at the right time. "We're the closest major city to the U.K., which is where most of the development is being done. So we can be a gateway to North America for that technology and expertise.
"If we discovered oil in the middle of the Bay of Fundy," he continues, "and it was a sizable amount, a lot of industries would be positioning themselves to provide products and services they could then export to other places. I see the same kind of thing happening here with tidal energy." Besides which, he adds, "we're highly dependent on coal here, and it would be nice if we could somehow stabilize our energy costs. That would have a spin-off effect, because people want to locate in places where energy is reasonable and they can depend on the price."