Blue Energy Canada
The last decade has seen the emergency of a
variety of creative technologies to harness the kinetic energy
of ocean waves.
Now, Blue Energy Canada, a Canadian company
based in Vancouver*, is poised to enter the renewable energy market
with the Davis Hydro Turbine that converts the high-density, renewable
energy of ocean currents and tides, estuary out-flows and rivers
into electricity. Developed by veteran aerospace engineer Barry
Davis**, the turbine bearing his name is comprised of a vertical
axis rotary unit fixed with foils and housed in a concrete marine
caisson that can either float or be anchored in place. Six prototypes
of the turbine prototypes (4-100kW) have been built and tested
under the auspices of the National Research Council of Canada
and independent assessments have verified feasibility.
The Blue Energy power system offers two unique
advantages, one a benefit of nature, the second, an engineering
feature. The first advantage is found in the high energy density
of ocean currents. Sea water is 832 times as dense as air, providing
an 8 knot ocean current with the equivalent kinetic energy of
a 390km/h wind.
The second advantage rests in the design of
the foils that Davis engineered according to specific hydrodynamic
lift principles, allowing the turbine to optimally capture the
kinetic energy of the flowing water. Tapping this power, the Blue
Energy power system can satisfy electricity demands in the multiple-gigawatt
range by linking "Ocean Class" Davis Hydro Turbines
(7-14MW each) in series across an ocean passage. Smaller energy
loads can be met by deploying the Blue Energy "Mid-Range"
250kW power system in off-grid communities, remote industrial
sites and regions with established net metering policies.
An additional advantage for the Blue Energy
power system is common to other ocean energy extraction technologies,
PV systems and wind power generations, namely, that the technology
does not rely on fuel to produce electricity nor does it emit
Historically, a number of tidal energy-production
plants have been built around the world, the largest being a240MW
tidal power plant in La Rance, France, built in the 1960s. Still
operating today, the La Rance ocean power development has commercially
proven the tides as a large viable source of sustainable energy.
Using conventional hydro turbines, the La Rance system depends
on a high tidal range, necessitating water capture behind a capital-intensive
dam structure. Another similar, smaller tidal power demonstration
project (23MW) has been generating power in Nova Scotia's Bay
of Fundy (eastern Canada) since it was built in the 1970s.
In designing his turbine, Barry Davis viewed
ocean energy as a reliable lateral, kinetic force rather than
a vertical one. He came up with a new plan, inspired by an old
concept patented, but never built, by French hydro engineer G
J M Darrieus more than 50 years ago. Davis built his own versions
and installed them in fast-moving water. With funding from the
National Research Council in the 1980s, he tested his insights,
from the St. Lawrence Seaway to the Florida Gulf Stream, and evolved
a new type of low-head water turbine. With this form of turbine,
there is no need to create a significant height-of-water difference
and thus no need to build a water capture system such as the dam
at La Rance. The result is Blue Energy's turbine fence concept
in which the first turbine units placed in the water can be generating
power immediately after installation and hook-up, and additional
units affixed later with no power shutdown. Blue Energy plans
also call for the construction of transportation corridors along
the top of such turbine fences, offering multiple infrastructure
services for one service price.
Another advantage Blue Energy technology offers
is its ability to integrate with existing energy grids and its
relatively high energy capacity. Although cyclic by nature, electricity
generated from ocean currents has the distinction of being highly
predictable and consistent. Tide tables can be used to project
power outputs, greatly simplifying its integration with large
energy grids and increasing its economic value.
The term "Capacity Factor" is used
in the energy industry to represent the availability of a power
source, as a percentage of its total peak capacity (also referred
to as "Capacity Value" or "Capacity Credit").
A power plant with a peak capacity rating of 500 MW that actually
produces an average 400 MW of electricity, totalling 3.5 TWh per
year, would have a capacity factor of 80 per cent.
Fuel-based power sources like coal, natural
gas and nuclear generally have very high capacity factors, between
70 per cent to 95 per cent, so long as fuel supply is secure.
Renewable energy technologies like wind and solar PV typically
have capacity factors between 20 per cent to 35 per cent, sometimes
as high as 40 per cent, depending on the resource quality. Ocean
energy facilities using first-generation Davis Hydro Turbine technology
will generally have capacity factors between 40 per cent to 60
per cent, the variance being due to site differences and predictable
fluctuations in tidal flows.
Although ocean energy is intermittent by nature,
following the sinewave-like ebb and flow of the tides, these cycles
are well established and occur with great consistency. Power production
from ocean energy facilities can be accurately predicted far in
advance, permitting convenient integration with energy grids.
Power exchanges can count on schedules deliveries, giving ocean
energy a higher value per MW of capacity.
As tidal flows vary by region, different sites
will have varying periods of peak power production. When the output
from several ocean energy facilities is combined, the electricity
levels complement one another, resulting in more consistent delivery
while maintaining the already-high level of reliability. This
makes integration with energy grids and interties even easier,
a definite advantage in countries with still-regulated energy
markets and centralised power plants.
Several converging factors are increasing the
flexibility of power grids and reducing the barriers associated
with intermittent energy sources. These include the trends of
worldwide deregulation, establishment of net metering policies,
preference for distributed generation and rapid growth in the
renewable energy sector.
Ocean energy appears in position to be well
received in the energy marketplace. Distinguished by its predictable
pattern of power production, ocean energy also has high power
density (kW/square metre) and abundant resources worldwide.
Preliminary estimates by Blue Energy, working
from various government databases, suggest that many countries
are well-endowed with ocean energy resources amenable to the Blue
Energy system, including all countries of the United Kingdom,
Norway, Germany, Canada, the US, China, Taiwan, Japan, the Philippines,
India and Argentina.
Martin Burger, president and CEO of Blue Energy,
estimates that up to 1/3 of the world's energy needs could be
met by tapping ocean energy resources.
"Wind and solar technologies have evolved
remarkably in recent years," Burger says. "But the oceans
are offering us an energy source of much higher density and greater
reliability than any other renewable for the foreseeable future".
Blue Energy's vision encompasses not only mega
projects on the ocean, but also river and estuary units that could
power a village and fit in a small pick-up truck. Burger, a native
of Canada's Northwest Territories, anticipates the Blue Energy
Mid-Range power units will provide renewable electricity to aboriginal
communities in Canada's north and other remote communities worldwide
and help offset the expensive and polluting diesel fuel that such
communities now must import.
Since the signing of the Kyoto Accord in 1997,
Blue Energy has given detailed presentations to delegations from
China, Taiwan and India and numerous investors. They have met
with representatives from BC Hydro, BP-Amoco and NCC-Norge (Norway)
to discuss joint venture projects. They also have a letter of
commitment for funding from the Philippine government to construct
a four-kilometre turbine fence which, when completed, will comprise
the world's largest renewable energy project (this project is
currently on hold until political activity in the Philippines
In the same period Blue Energy has expanded
its workforce to include a blue-ribbon engineering team that has
advanced the technology design and a sustainability-savvy advisory
team that includes global energy expert and futurist Dr. Hazel
Henderson (author, Paradigms in Progress and former adviser
to the US Office of Technology Assessment). To Henderson, Blue
Energy is "low-hanging fruit on the renewable energy tree,"
and set for massive, global deployment.
Facing the task of growing a small technology
company into a global one is one of several challenges Blue Energy
must meet in gaining solid footing on its commercialisation path.
One of these challenges Blue Energy shares with
other renewable technologies, namely that of breaking into a market
dominated by fossil fuel, nuclear and conventional hydroelectric
interest groups that are used to controlling the energy market
and acquiring the lion's share of government subsidies.
By virtues of it being an ocean energy technology
pioneer, Blue Energy also faces the disadvantage of being relatively
unknown or being misunderstood as a tidal power technology that
relies on a barrage system and tidal amplitude to generate power.
Mention ocean energy technology, Burger says,
and many listeners immediately think of building expensive dams,
siltation problems, and a need for high tidal amplitude differentials.
"We have to work hard to dispel misconceptions
about our technology," says Burger.
After he explains the relative simplicity and
high-density returns of the Davis Turbine, Burger says he also
sometimes faces incredulous dismissal.
"A lot of people actually say `if this
technology works so well', somebody else would have though of
it," Bulger says, shaking his head. "What is needed
at this time is education about the resource potential and the
political will to deploy the available technology".
Part of Blue Energy's education package to potential
investors, utility company executives and government bureaucrats
includes several independent assessments that support the claims
of the company.
A feasibility analysis by the NRC's Director
of Coastal Engineering Dr. Bruce Pratte, stated in 1991 that the
Davis Turbine is "a proven concept, and outputs on the larger
units can accurately be predicted to within two per cent accuracy".
Another analysis by Dr. Harold Halvorson (Halvorson
Marine Engineers, Victoria, British Columbia), conducted at the
behest of the British Columbia government in 1994 asserted, "the
technology works as claimed and is a credible development".
Moreover, Halvorson said "In suitable sites, and many seem
to exist, significant quantities of electricity might be generated
on scales comparable to conventional power plants (hydro, thermal
In 1997, the Institute for New Energy, in Salt
Lake City, Utah, ranked the Davis Turbine as "number one
for commercial development" among 114 energy systems.
Though foreign interests like the Philippines
are interested in deploying the Blue Energy power system in mega-projects,
a business goal for Blue Energy in the coming year is to construct
and deploy a commercial-scale, mid-range power system. The company
is presently seeking $12 million (USD) to build and situate two
250 kW, Mid-Range units at a remote fly-in resort east of Vancouver
Island, off the coast of British Columbia, by the end of 2001.
Deploying a working, commercial-scale unit is
a vital step for the company at this time, Burger says. Critical
development timelines at Blue Energy have been delayed by the
lack of a working model and Burger regrets that previous models
were reclaimed by the National Research Council after testing
Many of the investors in Blue Energy to date
are attracted to the technology because of its environmental attributes.
Anchoring a turbine fence, or individual unit, to the ocean floor
will create comparable disturbance to a marine bridge or pier
structure. During operation, it is expected that the slow-moving
turbines (approx. 25 rpm) will not impede smaller marine organisms
like fish or invertebrates. For larger mammals, like seals and
whales, the company anticipates constructing a sonar warning system
or protective cages. To stem marine fouling, the company is researching
non-toxic materials that are now being applied to boat hulls and
other marine infrastructures.
These characteristics, coupled with its zero-emission
signature, have garnered the praise of Jim Fulton, executive director
of the David Suzuki Environmental Foundation (Vancouver), who
describes the Davis Turbine as having "the lightest of environmental
More information about Blue Energy Canada and
the Davis Hydro Turbine may be found at www.bluenergy.com
(*Blue Energy Canada Inc. of Vancouver was formerly
known as Nova Energy Ltd., and located in Nova Scotia)
(** Recently retired inventor Barry Davis is a part
time consultant to Blue Energy Canada. He lives in Nova Scotia)
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