Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Turning on Tidal Power

There are places along the east side of Vancouver Island that are structured like giant Venturi tubes, choke points where tidal currents get funneled in, producing powerful, even dangerous flows. There are places where fishing boats and orcas alike gather, waiting for the tide to change so they can dash through these narrows. Some of these flows are so powerful that they generate whirlpools big enough that, in the past, they were known to capsize unwary trawlers and send them to the bottom.

Even without the tides, the Pacific Ocean current sweeps these channels, funneled in through the Queen Charlotte Strait.

That's all energy. Free energy. Reliable as the moon itself. Two high tides, two low tides every day without fail. I've travelled through some of these spots in small boats and have marvelled at the awesome power that nature displays.

That's why I was excited to read at today of an experimental tidal power project underway in Washington's Peuget Sound. The idea is for turbines to be placed on the seabed where they won't obstruct navigation and grabbing that energy as it passes by. This illustration gives an idea of the concept.

The project, a joint venture of the University of Washington and the Oregon State University is about to begin trials. If it works as well as expected it's hard to see why this same technology can't be put in place all the way from Quadra Island to the Queen Charlotte Straits. There's an almost unimagineable amount of energy that flows through all those narrows every day.


LeDaro said...

Bay of Fundy, the highest tide in the world. We have been talking about it for decades but have done nothing.

The Mound of Sound said...

This technology, if it can be proven, would seem suitable to the Bay of Fundy. The problem with such high tides is that it's tough to harness the energy along their fluctuating depth. Most of it is unusable. You can work the surface, at the cost of navigation and wildlife but I expect seabed systems like the Peuget Sound model would still be the best bet.

UU4077 said...

As with any change to the environment, however, there would likely be unforseen consequences. For example, how will such a contraption impact the fish and sea mammals that frequent the area?

Anonymous said...

The point is we know how to do this's a matter of who can profit the's not about protecting the environment. It's people like Tim Mellon of Exxon-Moble that pay people off to not implement these techniques....just a small mind with dollar signs for brains. A. Morris

The Mound of Sound said...

You've all stated really valid concerns. I think we'll know from the pilot project what risks this technology poses to marine life.

This sort of thing, if proven viable, would seem to be ideal for a public works programme. If we can build superhighways up to Whistler and a gaggle of Olympic venues, we don't have a lot of excuses for turning this over to the private sector.