New Brunswick's tides, trees hold energy potential, say experts
Capital costs main hurdle to introducing technologies like tidal power and regional biomass plants.
New Brunswick's forests and tides are regularly marketed as tourist attractions, but renewable energy experts say they could both play an important role in reducing the province's greenhouse gas emissions.
A 2012 study carried out by forester Stéphane Bouchard said that byproducts from the wood industry in New Brunswick have the potential to generate up to 500 megawatts of power.
"That amount of energy would represent about one third of the electrical baseload of the province," said Bouchard. "Everywhere in New Brunswick has the potential to use biomass for energy. Basically because there is forest everywhere in New Brunswick."
Bouchard's Université de Moncton research with colleagues Mathieu Landry and Yves Gagnon proposed 17 regional combined heat and power plants. Bouchard acknowledges that investment costs to set up such plants would prove to be a barrier, but he's convinced biomass has an increasingly important part to play in future power generation.
"As the price of energy goes up and the technology for biomass evolves and the price [of that] goes down, it becomes more and more feasible economically," he said. "We have the local know-how and the expertise in forestry. It's just a matter of time before we integrate biomass energy into our society."
Biomass power is already used to heat some hospitals, universities and schools in the province. NB Power has a power purchase agreement with Twin Rivers Paper mill in Plaster Rock to purchase power from its biomass generator.
Biomass is a so-called carbon-neutral energy source. Trees remove the same amount of carbon from the air while alive, as they emit when burned.
NB Power says between 31 and 32 per cent of its in-province energy sales are currently generated using renewable technology. Almost all of that energy currently comes from eight hydroelectric power plants and three wind farms.
The Bay of Fundy is home to the world's largest tides. Every day 160 billion tonnes of seawater flow in and out of the bay.
Marie-Hélène Briand, the global director of water power at Hatch engineering, says the technology to harness that power is on the cusp of viability.
"What we call 'hydrokinetic technology' is about to enter the commercial stage," said Briand. "The Bay of Fundy is one spot that is identified as being high potential for this type of technology."
According to a 2006 study by Triton Consultants Ltd., tidal energy in the bay has the potential to power the Maritimes, hundreds of times over. The potential between New Brunswick and Nova Scotia is as high as 23.5 terawatt-hours per year. However, a 2008 Acadia University study warns that extracting the full potential of the tides could have a serious environmental impact on the region.
The water power in the bay is such that the tide snapped blades off an experimental turbine in 2010. It is part of a test program, part-funded by the government of Nova Scotia.
"This is still considered new technology. It's equivalent to what the wind power industry was maybe 25 years ago." said Briand
But the Montreal-based coastal engineer says one advantage of tides over wind is that you can forecast exactly when power can be generated.
"Predictability is a great advantage of this technology. Tides are predictable for years in advance with a very high level of accuracy."
The world's first commercial tidal turbine has been in operation in Northern Ireland since late 2008.