The March 5 Shipping News business column, “Nova Scotia’s success, failure in tidal power,” raises a debate we often hear about tidal technology in the Minas Passage: “Why test in the Everest of tides?”
That is a good question.
Let’s remind ourselves that Nova Scotia is not the only jurisdiction looking at tidal technology. Devices are being tested in Scotland, France, the U.S. and Southeast Asia, in water tanks, in low flows, and in flows like those of the Bay of Fundy.
Nova Scotia’s most recent success – Sustainable Marine Energy (SME) presently generating energy in Grand Passage, Digby Neck – is a testament to the fact that tidal stream technology holds promise in many marine environments. And remember: SME plans to take this technology into the Fundy Ocean Research Center for Energy (FORCE) in the Minas Passage – home to the fastest flows on Earth.
Mathematics is the reason tidal technology developers seek the most powerful sites – not just here, but also in sites like Scotland’s Pentland Firth. Energy extraction increases as a function of the cube of water speed. A site with water speeds of five metres per second can produce nearly twice as much energy as water moving four metres per second. That small difference in water speed can make the big difference for an investor.
My Nova Scotia clean energy journey started 20 years ago when we looked for sites with the greatest energy potential. The numerous wind energy projects dotting the province all have wind speeds starting at 7.5 metres per second. Compare that to the impressive Minas Passage flows at five meters per second while remembering that water is 800 times denser than air. The Bay of Fundy’s renewable energy potential simply cannot be ignored.
Access to the transmission system is another key ingredient to renewable energy success. Thanks to the support of Nova Scotians and Canadians, through the federal and provincial governments, we have the necessary substations and transmission connections in place at FORCE. These utility-grade assets create a robust interconnection to the North American grid and are a technical match to the magnitude of the bi-directional green kinetic energy in the Minas Passage.
A decade ago, marine renewable energy guru Robin Wallace at the University of Edinburgh coached us to “hurry slowly.” He knew the path to success would take time, research, money, persistence and communication. In many respects, that is exactly what has been happening: successive governments have maintained the commitment to Fundy’s tidal energy while technology developers continued to advance generator capability.
Industry experts are predicting a peak in global energy demand by 2035. We will get there through energy efficiency, digitalization, local renewable energy supplies, energy storage and the phasing out of large central fossil-fuel generators. This will mark a complete makeover of the electricity system we have come to know and Nova Scotians will expect our tidal energy to play a meaningful role on this transformation.
We are the first to admit that tidal technology is still in early stages and remains a complex with engineering and scientific challenges to overcome. But we’ve already seen many achievements, including several different devices in continuous operation at various sites across the United Kingdom, and now we have SME’s milestone success in our own Grand Passage. We are confident that, one day, Fundy tidal energy will take its rightful place alongside solar, wind, storage and all other forms of renewable energy to serve Nova Scotia’s energy needs. Not to be overlooked are the rural and coastal community job opportunities that will accompany this emerging industry.
As a Nova Scotian, I will delight in seeing Christmas lights bring cheer and the quiet comfort in knowing some of the glow is a gift from the ebbing and flowing waters in the Bay of Fundy.
Hopefully, one day our grandchildren will thank us for hurrying slowly.
John Woods, P. Eng., is vice president of energy development at Minas Energy