Five companies are working together to explore how Canada can harness one of our single largest untapped sources of renewable energy: the ocean tides.
Until now, the potential of tidal power has been overshadowed by more accessible renewables like wind and solar. The two main tidal technologies both had downsides; tidal barrages are expensive and unwieldy, while tidal stream turbines were still untested as recently as ten years ago. But more and more companies are investing in tidal power in Canada due to its abundant resource, infrastructure, and support for renewable energy.
Located in Nova Scotia, the Bay of Fundy boasts the highest tides in the world. 160 billion tonnes of water flows through the Bay with each tide, equal to four times the flow of all freshwater rivers and streams in the world. That makes it the perfect place for tidal in-stream energy converters.
You can think of tidal stream technology as an underwater wind turbine. Where wind turbines harness the power of moving air, tidal turbines use the kinetic energy of ebb and flow tides to generate electricity.
It’s estimated that tidal turbines could generate more than 2,500 megawatts of power in the Bay of Fundy — enough to power 1 million Canadian homes.
Why invest in tidal power when we already have infrastructure for other renewables? Because tides have a distinct advantage over sunlight and wind: they’re predictable. Tidal power doesn’t depend on the weather of the day. The ocean tides ebb and flow based on the movement of the earth and the influence of the sun and moon, allowing utilities to predict it years in advance.
Once the infrastructure is in place, tidal power could be an endless source of clean energy. That’s why the federal and provincial governments are partnering with the private sector to test the limits of this technology.
The Fundy Ocean Research Centre for Energy
Established in 2009, the Fundy Ocean Research Centre for Energy (FORCE) is a not-for-profit corporation combining the efforts of the federal government, the government of Nova Scotia, and five innovators in tidal technology. FORCE is designed to demonstrate in-stream tidal technology and determine whether it’s both environmentally stable and economically viable for Canada.
The Centre provides a shared observation facility and visitor’s centre, and takes care of undersea cables and grid connection for the five participating companies:
- Minas Tidal and Tocardo Tidal Power
- Atlantic Operations Canada Ltd
- Cape Sharp Tidal (OpenHydro/Emera)
- Black Rock Tidal Power
- DP Energy
FORCE built its first energy demonstration facility in the Minas Passage of the Bay of Fundy. Water speeds up greatly as it flows through the narrow channel, making this an ideal place to test underwater turbines.
In 2009, OpenHydro deployed the first underwater turbine, which was the first commercial in-stream tidal stream energy converter in North America. FORCE installed fibre-optic cables in the Passage four years later, allowing the transmission of real-time data to the shore. In 2014, it laid four underwater power cables with a total capacity of 64 MW.
Last year, FORCE hit a major milestone: installing the first grid-connected tidal turbine in the world.
FORCE acts as a steward for the project site, continuously monitoring the environmental effects of human activity there.
Since tidal turbines are a new technology, there isn’t much information on its potential impact on marine habitats and wildlife. So far, the news is good — researchers haven’t seen any collisions between marine life and turbines, and zooplankton can pass through them unharmed.
To date, FORCE has published over 90 studies on the project.