At this point, Krouse is trying to keep his company's turbine in the water as long as possible, logging the precious hours required to validate the technology's design and durability. Green Hydro received its FERC permit in December 2008, and the 35-kilowatt turbine went into the water in February 2009. Krouse, who says that getting the FERC permit is the biggest barrier to funding, estimates it will take anywhere from 10,000 to 25,000 hours of cumulative operation to attract the investment he needs to further develop the technology. Hydro Green has applied for grants to get financial assistance to start up additional projects in Alaska and Mississippi.
Other tidal projects
OpenHydro Group, based in Dublin, Ireland, in November 2009 successfully deployed a 400-ton in-stream tidal turbine in Canada's Bay of Fundy, which has the world's highest tides, on behalf of its customer, Nova Scotia Power. The turbine, which rests at the bottom of the bay's Minas Passage, is capable of producing one megawatt of power (pdf).
East Yorkshire, England–based Lunar Energy in May 2009 announced that a one-megawatt commercial prototype of its turbine (which was developed with the help of Rotech Tidal Turbine) successfully synchronized to a simulated grid and produced electricity in testing on land. Lunar Energy in 2008 began working with Korea Midland Power to create a 300-turbine field in the Wando Hoenggan Water Way off the South Korean coast. The plant is expected to provide 300 megawatts of renewable energy to Korea Midland Power by December 2015. A commercial prototype unit is also expected to be deployed at the European Marine Energy Center (EMEC) in Orkney over the next year.
Similarly, Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, N.M., announced in December that it will receive more than $9 million over three years from a U.S. Department of Energy competitive laboratory solicitation for the development of advanced water power technologies. Sandia researchers are expected to evaluate new device designs and conduct basic research in materials, coatings, adhesives, hydrodynamics and manufacturing to assist industry in bringing efficient technologies to market. Sandia will also evaluate environmental factors including rates of sediment transport, water flow, water quality and acoustic changes.
Even though a lot of the testing taking place involves proving the turbines can work efficiently, the biggest roadblocks to making tidal energy commercially available are on the regulatory front. "That's not to say there are no engineering problems," Bedard says, "but you need to put these devices in the water to test them."
The money that start-ups must spend on environmental studies is a major barrier to getting a FERC license that would allow companies to test their turbines in a real body of water, as opposed to a laboratory tank. Verdant has spent at least $9 million on its East River project, one third of which was expended on studies to gauge the potential impact of the turbines on ships traversing the channel, aquatic life and fish migration, according to Taylor. The company has received some help from the government along the way in the form of state and federal funding.
Green Hydro had to study, among other things, the birds, fish and water quality (including turbidity and dissolved oxygen) around its City of Hastings installation, Krouse says, adding that the amount of research needed to get the FERC license was "onerous." The fish study cost $400,000, whereas for the bird research it was another $45,000, he says.
"A true commercial project cannot afford to deal with the government," Bedard says. "For these projects to be real and supply real power, there needs to be a process that will allow for the economical development."