Wednesday, September 28, 2011

US Tidal Power: Lunar Truce

Another potential US Manufacturing enterprise takes shape

ORPC’s RiveGen power system that generates electricity
 from the rise and fall of the tides.
The Moon has always been a source of misery for me.  I look up at it now as I write this and all it makes me think of are lost romances, failed attempts at poetry (don’t act like you never tried either), my mother reading “Goodnight Moon” in a not-so-subtle way of getting me to go to bed, or just morbid thoughts of lifelessness in general.  I mean, it’s a dead rock floating in the air, I get it.  It glows.  “Wooo”.  It’s still a piece of rock.  Why am I supposed to be so fascinated?
Recently, Ocean Renewable Power Co. (ORPC) announced plans to install what would be the US’s first tidal-powered turbine that lies in the grid.  The turbine, called the TidGen power system, would be placed deep in the waters of Cobscook Bay, near Eastport, Maine.  The turbine is a Tidal Energy Converter (TEC), mounted turbines that extract energy through the power of Earth’s tidal system, which of course revolves around the gravity of the Moon’s orbit. 
NOW, you’re starting to interest me, Moon.
Tidal power is almost non-existent in the US, yet it is a powerful and extraordinarily consistent method of generating electricity through renewable energy.  Because it relies on tidal patterns, it’s more reliable than wind and solar energy, where abundance of either can vary daily due to weather shifts.  Once they’re installed, they cost next to nothing to maintain as well.  Unfortunately, the downsides to tidal power have stopped serious investment in its tracks: it poses several environmental risks, needs ideal conditions in underwater locations and costs a boatload of initial capital to establish (one proposed tidal plant for the UK would amount to $15 BILLION altogether.  Music to Congress’s ears, n’est ce pas?) 
However, recent innovations in technology, specifically the advent of cross flow turbines, have proven that tidal power can generate more energy at a lower cost than previously thought.  Apparently other countries have already concluded the resource is worth investment.  Right now, according to Renewable Energy Development (, there are seven major tidal energy projects underway in Canada, the UK, New Zealand and Korea.  These tidal grids are projected to harness energy from 1 to 300 MW worth of electricity. 
Now compare that to ORPC’s initial model, which is slated to produce a whopping 60 kilowatts, enough to power 50 homes.  Clearly, the US is not exactly enjoying a comfortable lead in creating a tidal power grid, but it’s a step in the right direction both for this new technology and our quest to establish more US manufacturing jobs. ORPC’s president and CEO said it best:
This isn't theory because we're actually doing it. We have equipment in the water, so it's a fact.  We think this is a highly desirable new industry for the state of Maine-Chris Sauer, CEO and President, ORPC
So here’s what I am willing to do, personally, as my part for the American tidal power industry and the country as a whole:  I am willing to forego my grudge with the Moon.  I’ll visit my local observatory, I’ll read more Greek mythology; I’ll even howl late at night (like my college days).
While it has its risks, tidal power is a potential manufacturing opportunity that can pay off in the long-term.
Donal Thoms-Cappello is a freelance writer for Rotor Clip Company.


  1. Fantastic article and great points. The moon is our savior.

  2. Big fan of tidal. It's the only force that works 24/7 unlike solar and wind. I'd also like to see the tidal model incorporate desalinization since the structures could support each other. The big challenge as I see it is serving up the solutions that protect sea life so you don't have the 2 at odds with each other.