In early January, Verdant Power—a decade-old company based in New York—made headlines for filing an application with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) for a project that could allow it to install up to 30 new tidal power turbines in the East Channel of the East River in New York City. The company said that, if approved, the project would be the first tidal power plant in the U.S. licensed to transmit electricity onto the national grid.

Essentially, Verdant Power’s Roosevelt Island Tidal Energy (RITE) Project would use a signature three-bladed “Free Flow” turbine system to harness kinetic hydropower. According to the company, from 2006 through 2008 it successfully demonstrated an array of six full-scale turbines and delivered the power generated to businesses in New York City with no “power quality problems” (Figure 4).

4. A rising tide. New York company Verdant Power announced last December that it had filed an application to install 30 fifth-generation three-bladed turbines (such as the one shown here, being tested in 2006) in the East Channel of the East River in New York City. The project would have a nameplate capacity of 1 MW. Courtesy: Kris Unger/Verdant Power

The application with FERC was filed for an advanced fifth-generation version of the system, partially funded by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). Along with the DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Sandia National Laboratories, and the University of Minnesota’s St. Anthony Falls Laboratory, Verdant Power is planning to test a “new composite turbine blade” while conducting the pilot test. Incremental installation of the plant with a nameplate capacity of 1 MW is expected to begin in late 2011, pending approvals.

Verdant Power may be spearheading efforts in the U.S. to generate power with tidal energy, but in the rest of North America, the tide has already turned on making marine power a mainstay resource. In December, for example, Mexican utility S.D.E announced it had begun construction of the first of many planned 1-MW marine-powered plants in Cancun. The plant, which will be completed in as little as six months, S.D.E claims, will be replicated all along the nation’s coasts and is expected to address a chronic power shortage afflicting Mexico.

One reason that sea power seems a feasible solution, according to a statement from S.D.E, is Mexico’s “high waves and long beaches.” Sea power was also desirable considering the “country’s significant level of environmental pollution.”

Though the utility did not detail the device’s technology (for which it holds a patent, having developed it with financial support from the Israeli government), it mentioned that the system under consideration was “the most effective in the world” and would cost just $65,000 to construct. This compares with construction costs per megawatt of $1,500,000 for coal, $900,000 for gas, $3,000,000 for solar energy, and $1,500,000 for wind power. The power produced by the system would also be cheap: reportedly 2 cents/kWh.

Meanwhile, currents in the Bay of Fundy, nestled between the Canadian provinces of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia—where tidewaters can surge to 53 feet, the highest in the world—are reportedly proving too strong for ongoing experimental tidal projects. According to officials from Nova Scotia Power Inc. and Irish company OpenHydro, which partnered to demonstrate a 400–metric ton turbine, recovery of the device just a year after deployment showed that all 12 blades from the unit’s core were missing. The rest of the structure, an innovative open-center design, was in “excellent condition overall,” as OpenHydro CEO James Ives noted. “It’s too early to be certain, but it appears this is the result of the tidal regime being much stronger than we initially believed,” he said, adding that a detailed analysis would provide more information and guide the next design and deployment decisions.

—Sonal Patel is POWER’s senior writer.