With the dawn of 2021, the finish line is now clearly in sight for the Pempa’q In-stream Tidal Energy Project, targeted for commissioning in Nova Scotia’s Bay of Fundy by the end of the year.
Teams participating in the Spicer Marine Energy consortium are pushing ahead on the project through the winter to deliver Canada’s first floating tidal energy array.
Project partner Sustainable Marine Energy (SME) is assembling its new 420-kilowatt PLAT-I 6.40 platform in the town of Meteghan, N.S. this month and within a matter of weeks it will be launched — only two metres of water is required — and installed at the Grand Passage testing site in the bay for troubleshooting throughout the winter and spring.
The next stage, possibly in late spring or early summer, will be construction of the permanent installation at the Fundy Ocean Research Centre for Energy (FORCE) in Minas Passage. Two other platforms will be installed in the next couple of years, though the timetable is still uncertain. Pempa’q’s final capacity is slated for nine megawatts delivered to the Nova Scotia grid.
The Bay of Fundy is home to the world’s highest tides and Jason Hayman, CEO of SME, has had the opportunity to stand on the catamaran-style platform during the rush of the tide and marvel at its power. At mid-tide, the current in Minas Passage is about four cubic kilometres per hour, the same as the estimated combined flow of all the rivers and streams on Earth combined.
SME has been testing a smaller platform at Grand Passage since 2018. Hayman equated the thrust to the power of two F-35 jets in full after burner.
“I remember the first time I went on it, you feel it, it is like being on the back deck of a powerful boat. It is humming, it is moving, the water is rushing past,” said Hayman. “I remember that day, we said, this is serious, we are on to something here.”
SME and a former project rival, Minas Tidal LP, decided to join forces to co-develop their adjacent berths at FORCE and SME is also working with investors Schottel, developer of the turbines on the platform, and Scottish Enterprise.
“We ended up becoming a consortium of the willing and the brave,” Hayman said.
The federal government pitched in $28.5 million in November to support the project. Spicer has a 15-year contract to sell its power to Nova Scotia Power.
FORCE, a non-profit research facility, is another essential player, providing key infrastructure help. It has received financial contributions from the Government of Canada, the Province of Nova Scotia, the Offshore Energy Research Association and participating developers.
Onshore infrastructure includes a substation and observation centre. Offshore assets include an 11-kilometre subsea cable network and environmental sensor platforms.
The PLAT-I 6.40 will host six tidal turbines that have been designed to flip up like an outboard motor on a powerboat for easy maintenance. The platforms will be anchored to bedrock using a four-point mooring system designed by SME and will be able to spin around the mooring turret, Hayman explains, to align with both the advancing and receding tide each day. Onboard generators will match the power up to the grid frequency and the power will be exported via underwater cable to the shore.
Each step involves new adaptations of technology with SME and its partners having to prove to investors it will all work. Operational learning, through trial and error, is also painstaking. Hayman compared the process to learning to tie a shoe.
“The biggest hurdle was proving we could get something in the tidal flow that would sit there happily,” he said. “It is a pretty dynamic situation. We need something that is passive and simple enough that it will sit there happy, in that kind of environment.”
The development of the mooring system was also a breakthrough, Hayman said.
“Like every starry-eyed tech development company, we felt we invented a better mousetrap when we developed the mooring apparatus,” he said.
“We realized very early on that with the huge loads that will be generated, it will need pretty serious mooring and anchors to hold that,” Hayman explained, noting its competitors were using anchors that were a “huge chunk of weight.”
SME’s decision was to bolt the moorings into the bedrock, but the operation would have to be done quickly while the tide was not a factor.
“So we developed what we believe is the first of its kind, a rig and anchor where we can drop it to the seabed, drill in a rock vault as an anchor into the rock and we can do that in less than an hour in 40 to 50 metres of water,” said Hayman.
SME is confident its platforms will survive the Bay of Fundy’s treacherous climate.
“With nature, never say never,” said Hayman. “However, we made it through Hurricane Dorian (2019) without incident. The math says we will survive any hurricane. And these sites are fairly sheltered channels, we are not putting anything in the open ocean.”
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