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April 08, 2008— Ottawa, Ontario

What's the largest untapped source of renewable energy in Canada? Hint: it's not the usual suspects: wind, solar and biomass. According to the first comprehensive, Canada-wide inventory of marine renewable energy resources, the combined might of waves and tides off Canada's coasts has the potential to meet a large proportion of our electricity needs.

The NRC-led study, which grew out of a 2005 industry-government roundtable on ocean renewable energy in Vancouver, found that the total wave energy potential at depths of 1 kilometre off Canada's Pacific coast averages about 37,000 megawatts (MW), or over 55 percent of Canada's electricity consumption, while the total wave energy potential off the Atlantic coast is almost 150,000 MW — more than double our current electricity demand.

Dr. Andrew Cornett, NRC Canadian Hydraulics Centre
Dr. Andrew Cornett, NRC Canadian Hydraulics Centre

"On a global scale, Canada has one of the richest renewable marine energy resources of almost any country," comments Dr. Andrew Cornett, who leads the coastal engineering group at the NRC Canadian Hydraulics Centre (NRC-CHC) in Ottawa.

According to the inventory report, which Dr. Cornett prepared, "only a fraction of the available wave energy resource can be extracted and converted into useful power. Even so, the Canadian resources are considered sufficient to justify further research into their development as an important source of renewable green energy for the future."

The original aim of this study was to develop an interactive atlas — modeled after the Canadian Wind Energy Atlas — for use by power utilities, regulators, project developers, environmental scientists and other interested parties. Although the atlas development has not been funded yet, "private industry has used the inventory results to help attract more investment in marine energy R&D," says Dr. Cornett.

"So far, our work has mainly opened people's eyes to Canada's vast marine energy resources," he says. "Our inventory answers some key questions about tidal and wave energy: how large are the potential resources, where are they located and what are their characteristics?"

To conduct the study, Dr. Cornett's group collaborated with Triton Consultants, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO), Environment Canada, Powertech Labs and the industry association Ocean Renewable Energy Group.

The study included a site-by-site inventory of places where tidal currents were high. "We found about 190 sites whose potential power collectively exceeds an annual average of 42,000 MW, or roughly two-thirds of Canada's current electricity demand — although only a fraction of this amount could be extracted using available technology," he says.

Dr. Cornett's team is now conducting detailed resource assessments for three geographic areas where marine energy developments will likely take place first: the Bay of Fundy, the west coast of Vancouver Island, and the St. Lawrence River. "In these assessments, we're doing numerical modeling to better understand the tidal currents, river flows and wave resources closer to the coast." This work should be completed by the summer of 2008.

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National Research Council of Canada

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