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'Right pieces of puzzle in place to make tidal a reality for Canada'

OPINION | Canada’s marine renewable energy sector has had its setbacks but persistence looks about to pay off, writes Elisa Obermann

For over a decade, Canada has been working towards building a marine renewable energy industry. There have been successes and setbacks, but overall there has been fundamental progress on many fronts. And now, after years of investment, research, testing, and enabling initiatives, Canada is entering a new chapter in development – one that may just have the right elements in place to move the needle enough that marine renewable energy is solidified as having an important role in our low carbon future.

On Canada’s east coast, the province of Nova Scotia continues to be the country’s hub of activity – and it has been gaining momentum. A world-class tidal resource from the Bay of Fundy, shared infrastructure through the Fundy Ocean Research Center for Energy (Force), a feed-in tariff (FIT), and legislation that outlines licensing and permitting has attracted interest and investment from developers around the world.

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At Force, DP Energy will be developing its Uisce Tapa project, a 9MW project using Andritz turbines that was awarded almost C$29.7m ($22.5m) by the government of Canada under its Emerging Renewable Power Program (ERPPP). More recently, Sustainable Marine Energy (SME) and Minas Tidal – both developers at Force, announced their agreement to co-develop at the site using SME-s PLAT-I floating in-stream tidal energy technology to deliver up to 9MW of tidal energy to the grid. In addition to these larger projects, there a number of smaller developments underway in other areas of the Bay of Fundy, with SME, Jupiter Hydro, and Big Moon Power all having received permits over the last two years.

In total, Nova Scotia has approximately 25MW of renewable electricity from tidal energy approved under its FIT. There is a lot invested in these projects – not just from a financial perspective, but from the role they can play in economic development and addressing climate change. With deployments targeted to start over the next 1-2 years, the region will not only be making use of its unique tidal resource to displace greenhouse gases, it will also be engaging a local supply chain and beginning to build the scale and volume needed to drive costs of tidal energy development down.

Recognising the importance of these projects at this point in time, the Government of Nova Scotia recently announced amendments to legislation that would issue new PPAs [power purchase agreements] to existing FIT holders, providing the time needed to build on investment and progress to date, and ensure that these projects come to fruition.

The right pieces of the puzzle are in place to make clean electricity from tidal energy in Canada a reality, but like all emerging clean technologies, there are still a number of challenges to tackle. To advance, the industry must be able to answer the remaining questions around environmental effects, establish true commercial markets – whether that be providing electricity to the grid or displacing diesel in Canada’s remote communities, and ultimately these upcoming projects will need to demonstrate the technical robustness to operate in some of the most energetic tides in the world.

The slated projects in Nova Scotia present the opportunity to solve some of these challenges and that is why they are so important, not only to the region and country, but to the evolution of the worldwide marine renewable energy industry.

· Elisa Obermann is executive director of Marine Renewables Canada (MRC), the national industry association supporting Canada’s tidal, wave, river current, and offshore wind sector, and co-organiser of this weeks Energy3 conference in Halifax, Nova Scotia

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