NREL tidal research targets renewable energy sources in Alaska

National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) has conducted tidal research in Cook Inlet to look into opportunities for a reliable and renewable power source in Alaska.

The Cook Inlet study included researchers from Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and Sandia National Laboratories with the help of TerraSond, Ocean Renewable Power Company, and Integral Consulting.

Researchers gathered data on the velocity, turbulence, and sediments at what is said to be the nation’s top-ranked tidal energy site using two 12-foot submarine-shaped buoys that floated 60 feet below the inlet’s surface, and one that rested on the seafloor.

According to NREL, the Cook Inlet area has the energy potential to reduce Alaska residents’ dependence on declining oil and gas production and provide excess renewable energy that could stimulate the Alaskan economy.

“Tidal energy has the potential to provide more than 220 terawatt-hours per year of clean, renewable energy in the United States, which is enough to power 21 million homes. Tidal technologies are promising, with new demonstration projects showing the world that they can operate reliably and efficiently. And yet, it is still an early-stage industry when compared to wind and solar”, NREL explained.

Similar studies have been performed in Puget Sound, Washington, and off the coast of Maine, but the Alaskan environment poses unique challenges with stronger currents, sea ice in winter, and sediments that wash into the inlet from the glaciers dotting the nearby mountains.

The collected data will help validate and refine models to paint a much more detailed picture of the site, including how much energy could be generated there and how to build tidal turbines that can withstand the elements.

The detailed understanding of the Cook Inlet tidal energy resource that stems from this project will allow the industry to design reliable tidal turbines and ultimately, help design turbine arrays that maximize power production while minimizing impacts to marine life and the inlet’s ecosystems.

“Tidal power technologies are at a critical stage of development; U.S. and European companies have had increasing success in single-device demonstration projects and are now planning pilot-project arrays that demonstrate long-term reliability and scalability. Cook Inlet’s strong currents and harsh environment are ideal for demonstrating technology robustness”, NREL added.

Tidal energy is expected to also help transform and revitalize the Alaskan economy and contribute to meeting the marine energy industry’s goal of one gigawatt of marine energy plants deployed by 2035.

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Video source: NREL

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