Active times ahead for Canadian tidal energy market

Tidal Today speaks to current berth holders at The Fundy Ocean Research Center for Energy (FORCE) to get a heads up on progress made and expected future activity.

By Peter Taberner on Dec 12, 2014

FORCE, as many in the tidal power industry know is a leading organisation for in-stream tidal energy. It is one of the main drivers for tidal energy progress in Canada, and the latest developments there, while some pose serious commercial challenges, are showing signs that there are exciting times ahead.

Located at the Bay of Fundy in the eastern province of Nova Scotia, FORCE’s remit is to act as a host to technology developers, and to provide the infrastructure for power to be delivered to the grid.

Over the past year FORCE can boast of significant advances which have been made, with strides being made with technology, and on the organisation and structure of the research centre.

As previously report by Tidal Today, four subsea power cables have been installed at the facility, giving FORCE the largest transmission capacity for tidal power in the world, highlighting the ambition of the research centre.

The cables, which have a combined length of 11 kilometres, have a total capacity of 64 megawatts, equivalent to the power needs of 20,000 homes at peak tidal flows.

Planning and preparation pay off

To emphasise the scope of the cable project, the installation of the cables was in the world’s highest and most powerful tides, an incredible achievement that needed intense planning and preparation by the entire FORCE team.

Other latest developments include the installation of an underwater data cable at the FORCE site.

This was followed by the completion of the building of a monitoring platform that will connect to that cable, which will be able to deliver real-time tidal data from the Bay of Fundy.

The full plan is to install the platform in the near future, and all the data that is captured will serve a dual purpose, as reference data for developers who are designing turbines for FORCE’s challenging site, plus allowing scientists to observe any environmental issues that arise.

Structure inside and outside of the board room

The research centre has also had a review of how their team is structured, plus a new director of operations has been appointed as part of an expanded board room.

Another key part of the team are the contractors who have all proven that they can cope with the challenges of working at the research centre site.

They include ETA as sub-sea cable specialists, Hughes Offshore and Shipping Services, who provide marine and QHSE consultancy, RJ MacIsaac Construction, FORCE’s new lead contractor for marine and onshore activity, Seaforth Geosurveys for survey support and Strum Engineering for electrical engineering support.

Tony Wright, the general manager of FORCE, reflects on the centre’s progress and the conditions for tidal energy.

“Most people are cautiously supportive, everyone here knows how powerful the tides are in the Bay of Fundy, and it makes sense to look at how to harness that clean energy using renewable technology. There is also interest in the economic potential for a new energy industry to grow in rural communities along the Fundy coastline.”

He adds: “The Government has been very supportive. But we still don’t have the investment that the UK or France have committed, and more funding could help in a number of common areas, including marine infrastructure, vessel assets, research, and other incentives.

“Successful installation and interconnection of the first turbines at FORCE, will be a very strong signal to encourage additional public sector investment in these areas,” says Wright.

Matching ambitions

FORCE will allocate berths at the Bay of Fundy from private sector collaborators, whose project pitches match the ambitions of the research centre.

Open Hydro, for example, was awarded a berth in March 2014, and is leading a consortium on aproject, which will consist of an array of two 16m open-centre turbines, with a capacity of 2MWs each mounted on subsea gravity bases, connected to the electricity grid.

Sue Barr, Open Hydro’s Environment and External Affairs Manager relays the project’s progress: "Open Hydro has had a very successful 2014. Including the 4MW array, which will be called the Cape Sharp Tidal project. This project is on track to be one of the world’s first grid connected tidal arrays at commercial scale, and the turbine system design is complete, additionally we have commenced procurement for delivery of these four turbines in summer 2015.

“The delivery of the project will utilise local manufacturing and supply chain. In the longer term, Open Hydro plans to install a commercial scale 300MW within the Bay of Fundy." 

Barr says that to move to larger scale, prices need to come down and be more competitive with other renewables, particularly wind.

“We also need to assure the public, particularly the fishing community, that turbines and marine life can co-exist. That requires more research, more data, and most importantly more experience with turbines in the water,” she says.

At the time that Open Hydro was handed its space at FORCE, Black Rock Tidal Power was also awarded two demonstration berths.

In an attempt to combat the costs of a single turbine approach, Black Rock has created the TRITON platform, with inexpensive small and robust tidal turbines developed by ship propulsion manufacturer SCHOTTEL.

The device developers believe it has enormous potential to cut future tidal energy costs, and the design leaves the appliance in a floating semi submerged form, which will align itself to the patterns and flows of the ocean.

"We are in the preparation for the detail design of the TRITON platform that we will deploy at FORCE,” explains Niels A. Lange, Black Rock’s business development manager.

“Together with our local partners we are in the process of gathering data from the flow of the tides and waves, and we are working towards an full assessment of the sea bed conditions, furthering our understanding of the FORCE site," says Lange.

Lange says he and the team are very confident over the technology, and the crucial elements of the TRITON platform.

He explains: “TRITON is a new configuration of proven and established technologies, for example the seabed hinge that connects the platform to the foundation is similar to rudder shafts of large ships. Our main aim of the project is that we want to achieve a full technical and commercial demonstration. We expect the project to be profitable in around 15 years time."

Financial uncertainty remains

Another berth holder at Fundy is Marine Current Turbines, one of the more established tidal players. But parental jitters have placed a question mark over MCT’s future plans at Fundy in recent weeks.

Just over two years since Siemens acquired Marine Current Turbines, the German industrial group has reported that it is planning a sale of the UK tidal turbine and development company.

"A dedicated tidal power industry of critical size will develop in the near future," Siemens said in a statement. "But due to the limited resources it would be a niche market for Siemens."

Not surprisingly, the decision for the large group to sell the tidal power company followed the news of MCT’s unfortunate suspension of its work on a 10MW tidal array off the coast of Wales earlier this year.

Funding gap

Tidal Today reported in September that Siemens, through its tidal company subsidiary Marine Current Turbines, that it was suspending the Skerries project, but looking to deploy its SeaGen tidal generators in other opportunities.

The 10MW £70m Skerries Tidal Stream Array, which was to be Wales’s first commercial tidal energy farm, was given planning permission from the Welsh Government in February 2013. A variation to the Marine Licence was approved by Natural Resources Wales in early 2014 to change the route of the export cable to come ashore at Cemaes Bay. Installation of the Anglesey Skerries Tidal Array was at the time planned for summer 2016.

However, the project’s reported inability to attract match funding for the site meant that construction delays were inevitable, pushing the project’s power distribution and completion past the intended 2016 deadline.

Role of government support

In Canada the government has provided C$25m ($22m) toward the Bay of Fundy testing facility, which is home to the world’s largest tidal surge. Canada seeks to have 75 megawatts of marine energy by 2016 and 250 megawatts by 2020, according to Marine Renewables Canada, an industry group. These timelines are aggressive, but progress is being reported, leading towards a positive outome to meeting those government-led targets.

For example, in a further boost for the FORCE centre, Atlantis Resources has secured the rights to deploy a turbine at the research centre, as part of a ten year extendable seabed sublease, Tidal Today reported.

The sublease was granted following a grant agreement worth C$5m with Sustainable Development Technology Canada, which was signed in June.

Additionally a Project Agreement with the Nova Scotia Department of Energy was recently signed in October, a standard practice between all developers, which cements all the relevant contractual obligations on the developer.

The grant will be spent progressively over the course of next year, and throughout 2016, and is expected to be allocated to the design, build and deployment programme.

Atlantis will also contribute to the funding of the project, ensuring there is more than a single source of revenue for the lease programme.

And array we go

Joe Fison, director of corporate development of Atlantis Resources, says: “Tidal developers are currently demonstrating that arrays of multiple full scale devices can be successfully deployed and operated.

“Being able to move beyond single device deployments to full scale arrays, as we are doing on our MeyGen project in Scotland and later intend to do in Canada, this is crucial to making tidal energy projects attractive investment propositions.”

He adds: “In parallel with this we are focused on delivering rapid year-on-year cost reductions, bringing the lifecycle cost of energy of installed systems in line with more mature renewable energy sources, such as offshore wind, by the end of the decade.”

Exciting times indeed are ahead for FORCE and for Canadian tidal energy in 2015.