Dozens of remote towns on the B.C. coast, including Indigenous communities, still rely on diesel generators for power.

A group of researchers at the University of Victoria is hoping to change that by harnessing energy from wind, waves and tides. Their goal is to reduce the need for noisy, smelly, carbon-belching generators — as well as the fuel barges that supply them.

"Some of the ecosystems that those barges are pulled through, by virtue of where the fuel comes from and where the community is, are some of the most pristine ecosystems in the entire world," said mechanical engineer Brad Buckham.

The federal government has invested $1.4 million to establish the Pacific Regional Institute for Marine Energy Discovery at UVic.

With nearly 50 communities still relying on generators, B.C. is fertile ground to bring renewable marine energy technologies to market, Buckham said.

"For many of these communities, the impacts, both real and potential, on the land, air and sea of these diesel systems is an affront to cultural priorities and there is great motivation to move into renewable alternatives," Buckham said.

Brad Buckham

Mechanical engineer Brad Buckham is head of the new Pacific Regional Institute for Marine Energy Discovery. (UVic)

'Who is going to accept the risk?'

The technology to generate power from the ocean already exists. 

But without reliable data on how much electricity a given community can generate and how steady the supply will be, marine energy investments have been too risky, Buckham said.

"The problem is, who is going to accept the risk of doing that for the first time?" 

The institute plans to gather data using marine buoys and other technology. It will then be able to come up with computer models to show communities what is possible using marine energy.

"The solution and the need are there. There's a gap in between," Buckham said.

Several remote Indigenous communities in B.C. are also looking to run-of-river hydro projects to reduce the amount of diesel they consume.

Buckham said the research on marine renewable energy will provide another potential option when communities consider alternatives to generators.

He said the technology is unlikely to entirely replace diesel power generation, but could greatly reduce the need for it.