June 20, 2011 - hydrokinetic power

Monday, June 20, 2011

Flowing water contains large amounts of usable energy.  Beyond traditional dam-based hydroelectric generation, water’s power can be captured using hydrokinetic technology.  A hydrokinetic project generates electricity from moving water: the flow of tides, waves, ocean currents, or unimpounded rivers.  Most hydrokinetic projects will need regulatory approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, a process that is still evolving but is getting easier over time.

The Oyster River Dam in Durham, NH.

While humans have long recognized the power of moving water, cost-effective technologies for converting this power into electricity are still in their infancy.  The U.S.’s first federally-licensed hydrokinetic project was commissioned in 2009.  This project on the Mississippi River in Hastings, Minnesota features a 100 kW turbine mounted on a barge tethered in the output channel of an existing hydropower plant: the Army Corps of Engineers’ 4.4 MW Lock & Dam 2.  Under typical operating conditions, the Hastings project produces 35 kilowatts of power.

Technology continues to evolve rapidly, and each new design has to be tested.  Under limited circumstances, developers can test turbines without obtaining a FERC license.  In 2005, dealing with Verdant Power’s testing of underwater turbines in the East River in New York City, FERC ruled that a license is not required for a hydrokinetic project if the technology is experimental; the proposed facilities will be used for a short period for studies needed to seek a license; and the power generated from the test project will not be transmitted into, or displace power from, the electric grid.

This opportunity to test turbines without a license is limited.  Most hydrokinetic projects will need to get FERC approvals such as a preliminary permit, license, or exemption from licensing.  Tomorrow, I'll look at some of those paths toward developing and operating a renewable hydrokinetic energy project.

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