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B.C. research lab working to harness the power of the tides in the Discovery Islands

Clean energy project to be showcase for coastal communities looking to get off diesel
The PRIMED facility at Blind Channel will be a testing ground for clean energy projects. Photo courtesy PRIMED

Blind Channel, which is between East and West Thurlow Islands about 35 km north of Campbell River, is about as good a testing ground as you could get for tidal power technology.

That’s why PRIMED (Pacific Regional Institute for Marine Energy Discovery), University of Victoria’s marine energy tech institute, has plans to set up a kind of showcase there for clean, marine-based energy generation that will hopefully be one day powering small communities up and down the coast.

Thanks to a $2 million injection from the Province of B.C. those plans are getting closer to fruition.

“The hope is that it will act as a site where communities can come (and) they can see, with their own eyes, this technology in operation,” said Ben Whitby, a research engineer with PRIMED. “The idea is that we would share a lot of the generation data, a lot of the the fuel usage data. We would have data on how much diesel the technology was displacing and we would look to share that data with these communities that we’ve developed relationships with so they would be kept in the loop throughout the operation of the project.”

In 2017, the area’s potential for tidal generation was first put to the test. At the time, Mavi Innovations set up a small turbine to demonstrate that such a device could work. Though there were a few shut down periods due to debris fouling the turbine mechanism, the turbine largely remained functional for two years until the funding ran out.

“The goal at the outset was simply to get a device in the water and demonstrate its operation and they more or less achieved those goals,” Whitby said. “The device operated for about two years and it exported power into a local resort located on West Thurlow Island: The Blind Channel Wilderness Resort.”

The PRIMED project builds on the legacy of that Mavi project, using the infrastructure that was put out there for the initial turbine.

What’s different is the scale. PRIMED is planning to set up a 120 kilowatt device, compared to the 25 kilowatt Mavi project. PRIMED also intends on building out a small microgrid on land that will be powered by the tidal turbine, wind power and solar energy.

Whitby said the microgrid would help demonstrate “the diesel displacement capability of a tidal device connected into a small remote community, of which there are many in B.C. The hope is that that side will act as a sort of shop window for other communities on the B.C. coast who may… look to adopt similar technologies in their communities.”

The power generated by the 120 kilowatt turbine will be over the capacity of the microgrid, but Whitby and his team won’t be wasting the excess energy. Instead, they’ll be looking to produce clean hydrogen that can then be used as a product elsewhere for other power generation.

“If we scale up the tidal berth, but then obviously we’re not necessarily going to be able to use all of that extra capacity at the load,” Whitby said. “And so where we’re going to need some means of storage. I mean the easiest way would just be to sort of burn off the excess capacity, you know, we would have a big resistive load dump or something, but it would make more sense to try and store that energy… the hydrogen would be produced on site and we could potentially send it somewhere else where it could be used.”

Whitby did acknowledge that there are concerns about the equipment surviving in that stretch of water for years, but said that “that’s part of the reason we’re doing the project.”

The goal is to show the potential for communities who need this kind of technology to transition from diesel generation to a more sustainable option. The plan is to start construction this fall.

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Marc Kitteringham

About the Author: Marc Kitteringham

I joined Black press in early 2020, writing about the environment, housing, local government and more.
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