Dartmouth Engineer - The Magazine of Thayer School of EngineeringDartmouth Engineer - The Magazine of Thayer School of Engineering

Dartmouth Engineering Alum Behind First Tidal Energy Project in North America

By Anna Fiorentino
May 2014 • Thayer By Degrees: MS

Dartmouth Master of Science (MS) in engineering sciences graduate Jarlath McEntee Th’89 and his team at Maine’s Ocean Renewable Power Company (ORPC) discovered that if you place a wind turbine underwater it will provide significantly more power than in a traditional setting. Water is, after all, 800 times denser than air. 

Jarlath McEntee Th’89
Jarlath McEntee Th’89

In 2012, ORPC launched the first hydrokinetic tidal energy project in North America (after Europe) to deliver tidal power to an electric utility grid. Hydrokinetic energy is generated from waves or directly from the flow of water through inland waterways and in this case, conveniently predictable tides captured by the company’s underwater turbine generator unit. Called the Cobscook Bay Tidal Energy Project, the pilot project in the Bay of Fundy between Canada and Maine, boasting the highest tides in North America, utilizes the company's own TidGen Power System, with rotating foils that drive a permanent magnet generator.

"Significant environmental data is still being gathered with the conclusion that there are no adverse interactions with the marine environment," says McEntee, ORPC’s vice president of engineering & chief technology officer. Built primarily with composite materials, which resist corrosion in fresh and salt water, the turbines don't need lubricants or emit anything into the surrounding water.

The company has made steady progress, gaining funds from the U.S. Department of Energy, landing on Fast Company's list of The World's Top 10 Most Innovative Companies in Energy, and making debuts in both the New York Times and Popular Science. ORPC now also has a long-term power purchase agreement with an electric utility in Maine. As for McEntee, co-inventor of the submersible turbine-generator unit for ocean and tidal currents and named on a number of the company’s turbine patents, he says he owes a large part of his success to Thayer School.  

"The interdisciplinary nature of my education at Thayer provided me with the critical skills to work in various and diverse areas of engineering and project management," says McEntee, who came back to Thayer last fall to speak about ORPC for a Jones Seminar on Science, Technology, and Society at the suggestion of his former Thayer School classmate—now director of Thayer's MS and PhD programs—Professor Alex Hartov. "The broad range of skills that I have utilized during my work and life have been honed by exposure to my Thayer professors, mentors and fellow students."

There are of course hurdles to being the first on the continent to utilize tidal energy. The company must navigate complex state and federal licensing and regulatory processes, secure funding, lower costs of its power systems while increasing their efficiency, and tackle the technical complications of using these turbines underwater. Nonetheless the project continues to roll along.

ORPC Turbine
ORPC's underwater turbine

"There are also endless benefits to this kind of renewable energy, which is predictable because the tides are—unlike wind, wave, and solar energy,” says McEntee. He also believes tidal energy is the logical next step as the population continues to gravitate toward the coast, and pointed out that operating turbines underwater doesn’t disrupt the views of the landscape like in the case of wind energy.

And McEntee and his colleagues at ORPC aren’t the only ones who see the positives to turning to tidal energy. Last August ORPC was awarded two grants from the U.S. Department of Energy for a combined $4.9 million to advance the redesign of the TidGen® Power System. Over the next year, design efforts will be fine-tuned and enhancements made to increase output and reduce costs.

"ORPC anticipates developing and filing several additional U.S. and related foreign patent applications for its technology as it makes further refinements to its power systems and their components," says McEntee.

Tags: alumni, energy, entrepreneurship, environment, faculty, innovation

comments powered by Disqus