Tide turns for power, and for young minds

Tide turns for power, and for young minds

Louise Dickson
Times Colonist (Victoria)

They’re harnessing the tide at Pearson College to keep the lights burning at Race Rocks.

Turbulent tides tumbling by Race Rocks ecological reserve near Metchosin will test how well a new tidal turbine generator stands up to the harsh West Coast environment.

Pearson, which brings together students from around the world for studies and to serve the community, expects the tides to help produce more than enough electricity to replace two diesel generators and provide power to the college’s marine education centre on Great Race Rock Island by 2006.

“The project, the first of its kind in Canada, could prove the value of new technology over time and it could be very beneficial to coastal peoples around the world,” Stuart Walker, director of Lester B. Pearson College of the Pacific, said Friday.

The $4-million project is a partnership between Pearson College, EnCana Corporation of Canada, and Clean Current Power Systems of Vancouver. EnCana, the largest producer and developer of natural gas in North America, is investing $3 million in the project from its environmental innovation fund.

Clean Current developed and built the prototype of a tidal turbine generator which harnesses the power of ocean currents to produce electricity.

Testing will take place in about 15 metres of water, off Race Rocks, about 10 nautical miles southwest of Victoria. The tidal turbine generator, which functions like an underwater windmill, will be anchored to the seabed, and cables will carry away the electricity it generates.

When the tide flows, the blades turn, explained Glen Darou, president of Clean Current. The blades have a permanent magnet attached to them. When the magnet passes by coils, the coils create electricity. The turbine works when currents are flowing in either direction.

According to Darou, the project will have minimal impact on the environment.

“We will have to disturb the bottom of the ocean with the turbine and cables but it’s a fast-growing marine en-

vironment and will recover quickly,” he said.

“Anything that can swim in the tidal currents will not swim into the turbine, it will swim around it. But something that floats through like a jellyfish could actually go into it. That’s the size of the risk.”

The prototype has been tested in fresh water, but Clean Current has to make sure its turbine generator works in saltwater.

“Now we have to prove its operability and maintenance,” said Darou.

Clean Current will know in about 18 months how the model and its one moving part — the rotor — stands up to corrosion in a harsh marine environment. The turbine will be monitored by underwater cameras. The prototype being tested is 3.5-metres in diameter and can produce enough electricity for 10 houses. Full scale models will be 14 metres in diameter and produce enough electricity for 250 houses.

Darou envisions the day when there will be big underwater tidal turbine generator farms with up to 800 turbines that will produce electricity around the world.

“The end of the dream will be our technology licensed around the world and applied in tidal environments all over the world. It’s seeing the technology used and replacing fossil fuels,” he said.

The project will run at Race Rocks for five years. After that, Clean Current will sell the prototype to either B.C. Parks or Pearson College for $1.

Clean Current still needs to come up with $1 million to pay for the project, Darou said. He expected the money will come from private investors and the federal government.

The project will help the company and the province evaluate the future of this technology, said B.C. Energy and Mines Minister Richard Neufeld.

Alternative energy will change how we consume fossil fuels over time, said Neufeld. “This is brand new, so let’s give it time to see how it works. Let’s give it time to see (how) technology can change it to make it more efficient.,” said Neufeld.