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September 25, 2014

Ocean Renewable Power Co. calls Alaskan pilot project a 'huge success'

Courtesy / Ocean Renewable Power Co. Portland-based Ocean Renewable Power Co.'s RivGen power turbine is shown prior to be lowered in early August into the Kvichak River at the remote Alaskan village of Igiugig.

Chris Sauer, president and CEO of Ocean Renewable Power Co., announced on Wednesday the successful completion of the demonstration project testing its RivGen power system in the Kvichak River at the remote Alaskan village of Igiugig, 275 miles southwest of Anchorage.

ORPC’s RivGen system is a smaller-scale version of the company’s TidGen power system installed in Cobscook Bay near Eastport that in 2012 became the first commercial, grid-connected tidal power project connected to a utility grid in the Americas. The deployment of the 25-kilowatt RivGen system in Alaska in early August was seen as a test of the RivGen technology’s ability to reduce and stabilize the cost of power in remote communities near rivers and tidal estuaries that currently use diesel fuel for power generation.

“It’s been a huge success,” Sauer told Mainebiz in an interview at his Portland office, noting that some lingering questions about the river-turbine-generating unit before its deployment were answered during the roughly six-week testing period in the Kvichak River. “The lessons learned will be invaluable to us as we complete our commercial design of RivGen next year.”

“The riskiest part of the project was the self-deploying and retrieval of the turbine generator unit,” Sauer said. “We’ve already proven the TGU technology works, but this river TGU sits on a pontoon support structure [with a ballast system for lowering or raising the unit at its anchored location in the river]. … That system worked perfectly.”

Sauer said the Kvichak River project demonstrated that the RivGen system could be installed using local equipment and be easily connected to a local micro-grid, which he said is essential to RivGen’s potential commercialization as a viable power source in remote river communities worldwide that either don’t have power or are using diesel generators to produce electricity. “You’ve got to be able to deploy it without cranes,” he said. “In Igiugig we were working in a village of 40 to 50 people. There’s no infrastructure to speak of. It makes Eastport look like New York City.”

ORPC has invested more than $2.6 million in Alaska since 2009 and has built a supply chain of more than 50 partners and contractors throughout the state, including the University of Alaska at Fairbanks and Anchorage. “We have found that our business model that we perfected in Maine [of involving local suppliers] works anywhere,” Sauer said, citing as one example the RivGen pontoon system that was built and tested in Nikiski, a town of slightly more than 4,000 people in Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula.

The demonstration project, which was partially funded by the Denali Commission and the Alaska Energy Authority, included several tours to the site for state officials and representatives of Alaska native corporations and other businesses. It delivered the amount of power to the onshore station that had been projected for the test period and comprehensive environmental monitoring showed the turbine unit had no observable impact on fish and other aquatic life.

The latter finding, Sauer said, is significant, since the Kvichak is “considered the best salmon-fishing river in the country.”

The RivGen unit has been taken out of the river and ORPC will be taking the data and lessons learned to modify and improve its design, so that a newer improved version can be installed at the same location next summer for further testing and refinement. The goal, Sauer said, is to eventually create a marketable RivGen version “that will be cheaper, more efficient and able to reduce the cost of electricity” to roughly half the 77 cents per kilowatt hour that Igiugig now pays for its diesel-generated power.

“Our hope is to interest Alaska Native Corporations in investing in ORPC,” he said. “There are dozens of villages in Alaska that would benefit from this technology. Just in North America alone there are at least 100 villages in the same situation with very high cost of power … If you look at the whole market potential of high-cost areas and areas with no electrical power at all, that’s an amazing potential. All you need is a decent river. The nice thing about rivers, they flow more or less constantly.”

Read more

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