by Steve Barrett
Last week, there was some exciting activity in the waters between Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket. And I am not talking about the frogmen who were securing the islands in advance of the President’s vacation. The University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth and the Massachusetts Maritime Academy were working together to deploy a 30 foot long barge equipped with a marine tidal energy converter to test the potential for tidal current energy in Muskeget Channel.
The tidal turbine was supplied by Free Flow Power, a Massachusetts-based company, which has focused on extracting energy out of the Mississippi River and is now developing its marine energy capabilities. Another Massachusetts start-up, battery maker FastCAP, was also a participant, using its advanced storage technology to store the energy produced by the Free Flow Turbine. Concurrent with the technology testing, UMASS researchers collected environmental data including current measurements upstream and downstream of the turbine, zooplankton sampling to record physical impacts on biota, and hydrophone recordings of the background noise and sound signature of the Free Flow Turbine. HMMH and UMASS will use the data to evaluate the potential for a combined research and development facility and a commercial scale tidal energy project to supply electricity to the Town of Edgartown.
HMMH, serving as the Project Manager for Edgartown, continues to work with UMASS and other project partners on projects funded by the Department of Energy and Massachusetts Clean Energy Center to move the project through the federal and state permitting process. Edgartown hopes to deploy the first permanent tidal turbine in the second half of 2013.
Testing was conducted for five consecutive days with the barge towed to Edgartown Harbor each night to protect it from the unpredictable maritime weather. Fortunately, the weather cooperated for the period of deployment and all tests were completed successfully. While the project team includes the experience of marine engineers, biologists, and maritime technicians, weather is one thing no one can control. All the project participants were happy to have the barge safely in port and find themselves busy crunching numbers in the safety of their offices while Hurricane Irene was passing over Muskeget.