Roth: Hydrokinetic power: wave of the future?

When most of us think of electricity generation, we are all very familiar with various traditional fuel sources. For example, we may think of hydropower, or power generated from the force of water flowing through dams. If you spend any time around Grand Lake, you are probably familiar with this form of energy. Oklahoma currently generates about 5.1 percent of its electricity from hydropower.

We Oklahomans also think of fossil fuels, especially in Oklahoma, such as our own natural gas and imported coal. Interestingly enough, about 46.7 percent and 45.4 percent of electricity are generated from natural gas and coal, respectively, across our state. Also, we are becoming keenly more aware of wind and other forms of renewable power as developers take advantage of our state’s vast energy potential in all its forms.

However, as the environment and the economy continue their tug and pull on the energy market forces, new innovations are continually being made. One such way, which we probably don’t think about often, is hydrokinetic power.

Earlier this month, Verdant Power Inc. began the first-ever commercially licensed tidal energy project in the United States: the Roosevelt Island Tidal Energy Project. Thirty turbines are being installed underwater along the strait that connects the Long Island Sound with the Atlantic Ocean in the New York Harbor.

The goal date for completion is 2015. Hydrokinetic power harnesses the crashing of waves on the beach, or rivers rushing through valleys, but it’s all done underwater. In other words, it captures the power of the tide or a current. At this particular project in New York, the flow of the river and tide will generate up to 1,050 kilowatts of electricity. That’s enough to power 9,500 New York homes.

As with almost all forms of electricity generation, there are some environmental risks. These turbines, however, are designed so they will collect incredible data and information about the environmental effects on fish and river sediments. This project is funded in large part by technology grants from the U.S. Department of Energy. The funding enabled Verdant Power to design new turbine designs and prototypes that have made them commercially deployable. Verdant Power attempted a similar project in 2002, but the technology was inefficient. Now, thanks to the most recent grant, these new technologies are being deployed to the market.

The Roosevelt Island Tidal Energy project is a milestone of progress for the entire tidal energy industry and for the electricity generation industry in general. This kind of project allows innovative water technologies to help the United States take more advantage of its vast clean, domestic energy potential. As more of these marine and hydrokinetic technologies are deployed, the U.S. Department of Energy predicts that as much as 15 percent of our nation’s electricity supply could be generated this way by 2030.

This kind of development can lead to a massive reduction in reliance on foreign and dirty sources of power. And better yet, it’s another way to create local American jobs to help meet America’s energy needs.

As a clean-energy-producing state, with Oklahoma’s abundant natural gas and wind, we know the value of self-reliance.

Jim Roth, a former Oklahoma corporation commissioner, is an attorney with Phillips Murrah P.C. in Oklahoma City, where his practice focuses on clean, green energy for Oklahoma.