For centuries, Portland's working waterfront has delivered natural resources from the ocean to the city and the world beyond. Now, after several years of targeted research and development from the State of Maine and the private sector, Portland is emerging as a small hub for emerging renewable energy technologies that can harness some of the Gulf of Maine's fierce ocean energy to help power homes and businesses throughout New England.
This weekend, writer Colin Woodard profiled one of our local innovators, the Ocean Renewable Power Company, which has corporate offices here on Exchange Street. But ORPC's real action is happening way downeast in Eastport, where the company will soon launch its pioneering 180 kW tidal power turbine in the waters of Cobscook Bay.
Over the next year or so, ORPC plans to launch 18 more units in nearby waters (the Bay of Fundy, where Eastport is located, is home to the world's strongest tides) to deliver over 3 megawatts of new renewable energy into the northeast's electrical power grid.
While other tidal power devices have been launched before as demonstration projects and testing units, ORPC's project represents the first time the technology has been used at this scale. An energy expert quoted in Woodard's article said that "with this project, these tidal power devices have finally crossed the threshold into commercial development."
ORPC isn't the only renewable energy innovator that's been active around Portland. Two weeks ago, roughly a dozen Norwegian executives from Statoil, Norway's state oil company, flew into Portland for one of several local open houses to discuss its groundbreaking Hywind project planned for the Gulf of Maine.
Statoil launched the world's first floating wind turbine for a test off the coast of Norway in 2009. Hywind's technology, ironically enough, borrows from Statoil's expertise in building rugged offshore drilling platforms that can withstand the rough waters of the North Sea. The company is currently working with local Maine firms to prepare permit submissions for what could be — if all goes well — its first commercial application of the Hywind technology, at a deepwater wind farm approximately 30 miles east of Portland.
"We've looked at several sites, in northern Europe, in the UK, and the Japanese market," saud Trine Ulla, Statoil's Head of Business Development in Floating Wind. "The Maine project is the most advanced."
The state's research and development in floating offshore wind and composite materials was a crucial factor in attracting Statoil's attention. In 2009, the company entered a cooperative agreement to assess feasibility of floating offshore turbines with the University of Maine, which has been testing floating turbine designs in a new, custom-built lab [PDF].
If all goes well, Statoil hopes to acquire regulatory approval for the complex project by 2014, and the first four floating offshore wind turbines in the Western Hemisphere could start operating by 2016.
Image: ORPC's TideGen tidal power generator. Courtesy of ORPC.