NREL Cook Inlet Research: Turning the Tide for Renewables in Alaska (Text Version)

This is the text version of the video NREL Cook Inlet Research: Turning the Tide for Renewables in Alaska.

The video opens with shots of a harbor and crew members preparing to deploy buoys off of Cook Inlet, Alaska.

Levi Kilcher (NREL researcher): My name is Levi Kilcher. I'm with the National Renewable Energy Lab. I'm a marine energy researcher leading the resource characterization portfolio for water power. We're looking at wave and tidal energy today, and we're getting ready to make some tidal energy resource measurements in Cook Inlet, Alaska.

Cook Inlet is an extremely energetic tidal energy site, and that's why we're working here to make these measurements. But it also comes with huge challenges. Just a couple miles up the inlet from the site where we'll be making measurements, in the past, we've measured 20-foot sand waves underwater. So, these are sand waves that are undulations in the seafloor, made of sand and silt, that are 20 feet tall from top to bottom. So, that's pretty remarkable. And I think it shows the amount of sediment that's moving through here and also just the dynamic and energetic environment that you're dealing with. But that also means there's risk of our equipment being buried in these types of sand and so on.

And so, that's why we've designed these systems to float in the middle of the water column. Other systems that we have on the seafloor have bladders that we will be inflating to sort of lift them up out of the sand. We're going to be deploying this buoy, here, along with two other mooring systems in that channel right off of the East Foreland near Nikiski, Alaska. And those are going to be in the water for two months, and we'll come back and get them.

Behind me is our StableMoor buoy. This system is going to fly in the middle of the water column. It's got a 5,000-pound anchor on the bottom, and it has upward and downward-looking acoustic instruments that measure the water velocity throughout the water column. We developed this system in collaboration with the University of Washington— actually, the applied physics lab. Really grateful for the support of that team.

The other system that we'll be deploying is a bottom-mounted system. So, it's a bottom-lander that will set down on the seafloor. And the big challenge there—or risk there—is sand or sediment kind of covering it up. So, we've designed that system with inflatable air bladders that will inflate and make the system buoyant. And so, it can actually rise to the surface just on these air bladders alone. And so, that's, I think, a really innovative thing that TerraSond actually came up with, and I think it's promising. I'm excited about it.

Mike Salzetti (manager of fuel supply and renewable energy development for Homer Electric): Homer Electric is interested in NREL's resource because characterizing the tidal resource in the Cook Inlet is a step to developing tidal energy here. And we're really hopeful that the information gathered from this study will be of great value to a potential tidal developer in putting a project together here in the Cook Inlet.

Alaskans have always had a special relationship with the sea. Some people make their living from the sea. Many of us recreate on the sea and even supplement our dinner table with the bounty of the sea. And we think it would be great if this research could lead to a way in which we could actually harvest some of our energy from the sea.

Chris Rose (founder and executive director of Renewable Energy Alaska Project): Alaska had oil and gas resources in the ground for millions of years before they were discovered 60 years ago. During those last 60 years, oil and gas has actually done a lot for the Alaska economy, but oil and gas is waning. Our resources are dwindling, the pipeline flow is going down, the prices are higher. Worries of climate change are making people think twice about burning oil and gas. But we have a tidal energy resource that could last us until perpetuity. So commercializing tidal power will really have a huge impact for the state of Alaska. We're very excited that NREL is in Alaska characterizing our resource. We believe it has a huge potential to be a part of Alaska future.

Heather Spence (U.S. Department of Energy marine and science advisor): The ocean is constantly in motion, and ocean tides in particular are amazing natural energetic displays. NREL's research at Cook Inlet will be instrumental for technology developers to design and build more efficient, economical, and effective tidal energy devices that can survive high energy marine environments. Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and Sandia National Laboratories are collaborators on this project. We need all hands on deck to discover opportunities for water power.

Levi Kilcher (NREL researcher): This work is supported by the U.S. Department of Energy's Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Water Power Technologies Office. And this work is really critical because the marine energy industry is not yet at a size where it could support making these kinds of site assessment measurements themselves. And so, it's funded by the public to help get the marine energy industry started.

The work we're doing in Cook Inlet today is for tidal energy technologies, but I think a lot of the technology of tidal energy is similar to river current energy. There's a project in Igiugig, Alaska, that NREL has been partnering with Ocean Renewable Power Company in deploying a RivGen device there. That's a really exciting project. Tidal energy, river energy, wave energy—these are all marine energy technologies, and I think they add to our mix of renewable resource options that we have available to us. The U.S. Department of Energy has been investing in marine energy technologies for about ten years now, and I'm really excited to be a part of the work. I think marine energy has a lot to offer our nation in terms of diversifying our energy portfolio.

The video closes with the words "Learn more about NREL's Resource Characterization at and the Water Power Technologies Office at"