by Melanie Bickford

    Clean, Predictable, And Renewable: Harnessing The Power Of The Tides

    The Bay of Fundy is receiving a great deal of attention from proponents of ocean energy and from those in the industry seeking a more sustainable and green future. This 270 km long ocean bay is located in Atlantic Canada between the provinces of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. The Bay of Fundy is where you will witness the highest and most spectacular tides in the world with 100 billion tons of seawater flowing in and out daily during each tidal cycle. This enormous power is currently being harnessed to generate ­electricity via tidal in-stream energy conversion (TISEC). Numerous projects and research initiatives are underway. With growing demand all over the world for renewable, clean, and carbon-free energy generation, tidal energy is quickly becoming a top choice over traditional wind and solar power.

    Tidal energy conversion is complex and the technology is still young. In simplistic terms, TISEC devices ­extract energy from currents that ­accompany tidal rise and fall. This is converted into a ­transmittable energy and sold as a clean alternative energy source. The basis of TISEC is in tidal current turbines which function like underwater windmills.

    There are many different types of turbine ­technologies in use and in development ­throughout the world; however, to date, there is no particular device that has been ­proven to be the most efficient or cost effective. ­Commercial ­viability is the ultimate objective as these ­systems advance.

    The government of Nova Scotia released a “Marine Renewable Energy Strategy” in May 2012, which reinforces Nova Scotia as “the place to be” for tidal energy research and ­development. This strategy was brought about by the ­recommendations of Dr. Robert Fournier, an oceanographer at Dalhousie University, who delivered the “Fournier Report.” This report included 27 recommendations for future marine renewable energy policy and legislation. The intent of the strategy is to advance tidal energy beyond its preliminary testing stage into a phase of accelerated development and international focus. Securing the Bay of Fundy as a major centre of research for this sector has a multitude of benefits including the potential to serve Nova Scotians for generations.

    The Fundy Ocean Research Centre for ­Energy (FORCE), with its test site located in the Minas Basin area of the Bay of Fundy, is Canada’s ­leading test facility for tidal in-stream ­technologies. FORCE works with ­developers, regulators, and researchers in the field and provides access to shared observation ­facilities, submarine cables, grid connections, and ­environmental monitoring points. The power and strength of the Bay of Fundy’s tides ­provides the ideal test site for these technologies worldwide. Equipment that meets the “Fundy standard” can be expected to work in any strong tidal environment.

    Even with so much ongoing research ­within the ­industry, there is still much to learn about how ­TISEC devices will interact with the ­environment over time. It is clear that ­respect for ecosystems and surrounding ­communities is paramount in the ­consideration of ­emerging ­technologies. Great care is being taken to ­consult with ­appropriate ­communities and groups to ­minimize any ­alterations in the unique ­ecosystem of the Bay of Fundy and any ­subsequent sites. Furthermore, ­monitoring ­programs are in place at FORCE ­headquarters to examine changes to a variety of ­environmental factors.

    In October 2012, Nova Scotia researchers ­travelled to Dublin, Ireland, for the fourth ­International ­Conference on Ocean Energy (ICOE). In ­attendance were 750 ­international experts with over 100 presentations on themes important for growing the ocean ­energy ­industry. Tidal energy was featured with ­numerous presentations that explored different technologies, environmental impact studies, and measurement and monitoring to name just a few. Interestingly, Halifax, Nova Scotia, has been chosen to host the next ICOE in 2014. This will be the first time that a North American city has hosted the event, signifying that Canada—and, more specifically, Atlantic Canada—is viewed as a global leader in the ­marine renewable energy industry.

    It is anticapted that ocean energy experts will continue to develop in the Bay of Fundy as this important work continues. The ­collective goal is to create a sustainable and economically viable industry that Nova Scotians and the world may one day soon be able to rely upon.

    Melanie Bickford

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