By Jeff St. John
Alstom (OTCPK:AOMFF) is dipping its toes into ocean power, yet another indicator that the promising but challenging field of capturing energy from waves and tides is picking up interest from major renewable power developers.
The French power plant and railroad giant said Tuesday that it has signed a licensing agreement with Canadian tidal turbine developer Clean Current Power Systems, with the goal of bringing its first commercial tidal power products to market by 2012.
The move will give Alstom a chance to put its expertise in wind and hydropower to use in capturing tidal energy, Alstom Power President Phillipe Joubert said in a press release.
Clean Current will license its technology and develop new technology with Alstom Hydro, which has installed more than 400 gigawatts of turbines and generators around the world, representing about a quarter of the world's hydropower capacity, the company stated.
Clean Current makes horizontal axis ducted tidal turbines, meant to be mounted on poles on the ocean floor and capture tides in both directions. It installed a test turbine in 2006 in the waters of British Columbia's Race Rocks Ecological Preserve.
In 2008 it was picked as one of three tidal power systems for testing at the Fundy Institute of Tidal Energy at Nova Scotia's Bay of Fundy, which has some of the strongest tides in the world. The Clean Current Mark III turbine being tested at the Bay of Fundy is capable of generating 400 gigawatts-hours of power per year, the company says.
Financial terms of the licensing partnership were not disclosed. Still, having Alstom as a partner could give Clean Current the kind of financial backing to help it avoid the troubles of ocean power startups like Pelamis Wave Power. Pelamis pulled its wave power devices from the water off the Portugal coast late last year and has yet to put them back in the water amidst the ongoing financial crisis (see Pelamis Wave Machines Cranking Hundreds of Kilowatts, Pre-Crisis).
Clean Current isn't the first ocean power startup to land a partnership with a large-scale renewable power company. In March, Singapore-based Atlantis Resources received a $14 million investment from Norwegian renewable energy provider Statkraft, which said it would work with Atlantis to install tidal power devices in Scotland's Pentland Firth (see Ocean-Power-Meets-Bike-Chain Company Gets $14M).
Devices to capture the power of waves and tides generated less than 10 megawatts last year. But Alstom and Clean Current see the potential for 100 terawatt-hours of energy if the world's major tidal streams can be captured, three times the total power consumption of Denmark.
According to an October report by Greentech Media and the Prometheus Institute, ocean power could grow to a $500 million, 1 gigawatt market by 2014 (see Trawling for $500M in Ocean Power and Tide Turning for Ocean Power?).
Alstom's Joubert noted that the company would "look forward to government backing" to develop tidal power, which generates no greenhouse gas emissions.
The U.S. Department of Energy is seeking projects for $12 million it wants to award to ocean power technologies - an amount that pales in comparison to its support for solar and wind power (see Shiver Me Timbers 2.0: DOE Giving $12M to Marine Energy).
Ocean power, while a predictable and potentially massive source of clean energy, has proven challenging. Trial tidal turbines have been mangled by the power of the currents they're meant to capture.
Other tidal power companies include Marine Current Turbines, whose $20 million tidal power project off the coast of Northern Ireland called SeaGen is now generating 1.2 megawatts, and Verdant Power, which has a $2.2 million deal with the government of Ontario for a 15-megawatt project in the St. Lawrence River and a turbine in New York's East River (see Time magazine article).