“Philosophically, what we want to do today in tidal energy is understand the impacts and decide whether it’s an appropriate place to develop it. Then, if we decide it’s appropriate, minimize the impacts.”
UMaine’s role in tidal energy research started more than three years ago as a subcontractor to ORPC, doing turbine foil analysis and modeling. With DOE funding to UMaine, researchers launched the first of the initiative’s independent environmental and energy resource assessments, quickly making the university the go-to source of data and analysis for state-based and federal organizations, including regulators.
“Because they were in the process of developing a device, that was very much focused on the engineering,” Peterson says. “But from Day One, our interest has been in developing tidal energy as an industry and a resource in the state — assessing the size of the resource and the environmental impact, as well as developing tools that could be used for the different locations in Maine to determine how much energy is available.”
To date, the Maine Tidal Power Initiative at UMaine has received nearly $4 million in funding. That includes $1.9 million from the Department of Energy in 2009 and 2010 and $846,000 from ORPC’s $10 million DOE grant last year. Maine Tidal Power Initiative, through its partner, Tidal Energy Device Evaluation Center (TEDEC) at Maine Maritime Academy, also has subcontracted with two other Maine-based companies.
“In Maine, tidal energy will never be something that is a standard item that goes everywhere, because the complexity of the flow in any coastal area means that the design and the output are going to need to be understood in terms of local effects,” Peterson says. “Basically, it’s, how rocky is the coast? And obviously, it’s very different here than it is in the coast of Washington”. The University of Washington is the other university that has a large tidal energy program going.
“On the environmental side, we can’t even necessarily transfer some of our understanding from one site to the next, because it depends specifically on what species exist in that location and how they use that water.”
In Cobscook Bay and Western Passage, two sites in ORPC’s Maine Tidal Energy Project, one of the primary issues for the Maine Tidal Power Initiative is to determine where and when fish and other marine life are in the water column throughout the year. The goal is to help inform decisions on the potential risks of turbine operations on fish and fish communities.