Alaska’s Tides Scouted For Clean Energy

Last summer, we wrote about the progress of a novel hydrokinetic river turbine on the Yukon River. This low-head, in-stream hydrokinetic turbine (pictured below) was thought to be the first of its kind placed into commercial operation – a pretty cool designation for the remote towns of Eagle and Eagle Village. However, with 44,000 miles of coastline and some of the largest tidal ranges in the world, Alaska’s largest hydrokinetic resources may be in its oceans, not its rivers.

Experts estimate that the wave power potential of southern Alaska’s coast alone is nearly 1,250 terawatt-hours (TWh) per year – about 300 times the state’s annual electricity demand. Development of these resources in Alaska is likely to be economically feasible in only a few sites, however, and Cook Inlet, the 180-mile stretch of water that connects Anchorage to the Gulf of Alaska, is at the top of that list for its tidal-power possibilities.

APT Hydrokinetic

image via AP&T

The Alaska Energy Authority, a public corporation dedicated to reducing the cost of energy in Alaska, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have announced an agreement to conduct a baseline assessment of tidal hydrokinetic energy potential in Cook Inlet. According to Brighterenergy.org, NOAA will measure and model the inlet’s water levels and three dimensional current, salinity and temperature fields over several years to identify locations within the inlet with the highest potential for hydrokinetic energy generation.

The study is not the first of its kind in the area. According to the Renewable Energy Alaska Project, Ocean Renewable Power Company (ORPC) obtained a permit to develop a demonstration tidal project in Cook Inlet in 2008. In its own feasibility study, ORPC says it found that Cook Inlet has the second highest tidal range in North America. The company plans to begin building a commercial hydrokinetic power plant in 2012.

Lauren Craig is a writer and consultant living in Seattle, WA. She holds an M.S. in International Development from Tulane University, and is co-founder of Sustainable Systems Integrators, LLC., an employee-owned solar energy design and installation firm in New Orleans, LA. She is also certified in PV design and installation by the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP).