Nearly five years after a $10-million tidal power turbine was destroyed by strong currents in the Bay of Fundy, the provincial government and businesses are taking another crack at the technology.

ns-turbine-web

A 10-tonne test turbine was installed on the floor of the Minas Passage in November 2009. Just 20 days later, all 12 turbine rotor blades were destroyed by tidal flows that were two and a half times stronger than for what the turbine was designed to handle. (Nova Scotia Power)

The Fundy Ocean Research Centre for Energy (FORCE), one of Canada’s lead research centres for tidal energy, is preparing to launch a $5-million device to test the waters — so to speak —  within the Minas Passage. It's gauging what hurdles the powerful Bay of Fundy would throw at potential tidal energy harnessing technologies.

“To harness the enormous power of the Bay of Fundy, we have to understand it,” said Simon Melrose, FORCE’s platform project manager in a release earlier this year.

“That’s why we’re building an underwater platform that will give us a clearer, moment-by-moment picture of the tidal currents at the FORCE site.” 

The lithium battery-powered underwater platform will be situated on the floor of the Bay of Fundy and includes a camera, devices to measure the strength of currents in the bay and devices with the ability to detect tagged fish which swim near the platform.

Bigger platform coming 

Murray Scotney, a retired electronics technologist from the Bedford Institute of Oceanography, said one of the platform’s key instruments is an acoustic Doppler current profiler that can measure the direction and speed of the rushing water.

"It works on the same principle as the speed radar that the police use to see how fast you are going,” he said.

Understanding the environmental conditions and strength of the current in the Bay of Fundy is important for four consortia — European companies partnered with local Nova Scotia companies — who have committed to spend $9 million on four berths to test their turbines at the demonstration site.

Tidal power sensor platform

The information this sensor platform picks up and transmits in real time over fibre-optic to a computer onshore will assist four companies currently developing their own multi million dollar turbines to test over the next five years. (CBC)

In 2009, OpenHydro of France tried unsuccessfully to deploy a 10-tonne turbine in the Bay of Fundy, but the ultra-strong tidal flows destroyed the machinery within three weeks.

Current speeds have been clocked between 10 and 12 knots.

Instead of waiting months for collected data to be retrieved and processed, the new testing platform is connected to an onshore computer at FORCE in Parrsboro via a three-kilometre-long fibre-optic cable that transmits data in real-time.

"It’s absolutely necessary information for the developers and for the scientific community as well," said Scotney.

Four Nova Scotia companies had a part in building the testing platform, including:​

  • Amirix, which built the acoustic receivers that tracks fish tagged with special acoustic devices.
  • Open Seas Instrumentation Inc., responsible for designing and building the platform’s metal frame.
  • EMO Marine Technologies Ltd., which is responsible for building the communication system that will transmit data over the fibre-optic cable.
  • MacKenzie Atlantic Tool and Die Ltd., which built the stainless steel housing for the equipment.

Next spring, a platform — four times bigger than the current one —  will be deployed in the Minas Passage to take even more detailed measurements.

The province's 2012 marine energy strategy calls for the production of 300 megawatts of tidal energy by 2020, which the government says is enough to power 100,000 homes.