Meridian Marine to build innovative self-floating power plant

Source: BC Shipping News
Published Date: December 16, 2014

Contract marks final stage of alternative energy project for Dent Island Lodge...

Hull #001 will be a memorable one for Meridian Marine – one which will make the company’s 20th anniversary in 2015 even more of a milestone. While business has been brisk with refits and repairs since launching a large yard in mid-2013, the first newbuild for the company – a 17-by-28-metre barge -- will be the first of its kind in the world – and one which could potentially launch a new alternative method of low-cost, clean and renewable power generation for small coastal communities worldwide.

The barge, part of the Dent Island Tidal Power Generation project, is the brainchild of Water Wall Turbine Inc. (WWT), a locally based company focused on developing renewable energy generation technology from marine and fresh water currents. After eight years of research and development, company co-founders Marek Sredzki and Lodewyk Botha are ready to build the first full-scale, self-floating power plant that will be capable of generating up to one megawatt of electricity – about the amount needed for a small community of 500 houses.  Dent Island Lodge, just north of Campbell River and with a peak use of 200 kW of electricity in the summer season, will be the site of trials for the final stage of the project.


With over 40 years in the power plant industry and run of river projects, CEO Marek Sredzki, trained as a Mechanical Engineer, teamed up with CTO Lodewyk Botha, an Electrical Engineer -- himself with vast experience in the disciplines of engineering, production and management -- to create Water Wall Turbine. Joined by Grace Sredzki, AM, Engineer in the Environment field, and Russell Baker, VP, Strategic Business Development, the team at WWT has developed a commercially viable system of power extraction from large, fast moving water currents for conversion into electricity.

Sredzki and Botha recognized the potential for the future of renewable energies over 10 years ago and set about to produce a power generation plant that, by using water currents and tidal energy, would be robust enough to last many years, simple enough to be cost effective, and reliable enough be commercially viable.

Small-scale testing began in 2004 – initial tests showed that it was possible to extract large energies from currents if the correct design is applied. From the success of those initial tests, Sredzki and Botha set about securing patents, conducting proto tests and, finally, building a definitive scaled turbine model for ocean testing that verified the efficiency of the energy harvesting method.

With assistance from the Natural Resources Canada and the ecoEnergy Innovation Initiative and Clean Energy Fund, WWT’s team has worked for the last two years, from concept design to construction, on building a large-scale model and now, they are in the final stage of building the full-scale power plant. 

The technology

The technology behind WWT’s Turbine Tidal Power Generation Project is one that introduces a series of new and significant technological milestones for the effective harvesting of the potential and kinetic energy in water currents. By installing rotating turbine components within a specially built barge, the self-floating power plant can operate in shallow waters – a minimum of a four-to-five-metre draft -- with tidal or river currents in remote areas to generate up to five MW of electricity at competitive costs that are less than other alternative energies and, most certainly, diesel.

“Current oil prices are temporary and even at these prices, producing energy out of diesel is still excessive compared to other production methods,” said Sredzki when asked for cost comparisons. “The current power for remote communities, private lodges and resorts can be in excess of 65-cents-per-kilowat range whereas the WWT’s Turbine power plant, including energy storage, is predicted to be closer to 20 cents.” Sredzki also noted that, given the worldwide goal of replacing diesel with environmentally friendlier energies, tidal power can be more predictable and efficient than solar or wind.

WWT’s technology uses new battery technology to store the energy to allow for consistent delivery of power. For the first full-scale model, WWT is contracting with Tesla for batteries, but Sredzki noted that the battery supply market is still in its early stages and the use of other suppliers has not been ruled out as the cost will decrease dramatically over the next five years.

Another key feature of the technology is the elimination of the need to permanently anchor the unit to the sea floor. Competitors – Sredzki noted four in Europe developing similar technologies – are mostly centred on open-ocean installations and operate below the water surface, increasing both capital and operating costs significantly.

A self-floating power plant

In speaking with naval architect Ivan Erdevicki, President, ER Yacht Design, the key – and biggest challenge -- to the barge design was to ensure a high degree of stability. Erdevicki – who also designed the Falkins II, Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue’s highly efficient, self-righting rescue vessels (classed by Lloyd’s) – describes a 17-by-28-metre catamaran-type barge with multiple tanks that allow the vessel to meet the requirement for minimal movement despite constantly changing flow and velocity. “Ballast tanks in each hull provide balance and optimize flotation for turbine efficiency,” said Erdevicki.

The power plant will be built with a turbine designed for one MW but will produce 500kW – much more than the 200 kW required by Dent Island. “It’s our prototype so we’re overbuilding to be able to do a lot of testing and from there we can adjust it for other operations,” said Sredzki.

With a successful bid that matched WWT’s expectations for expertise, capabilities and cost, Meridian Marine’s President, Jim McFadden, was excited to be involved in the project, which should take about three months to complete. “We’ve just ordered the steel and will start on the flat panels as soon as it arrives. Once the flat panels are produced and erected, they will be put together into modules, then moved to Meridian’s drydock where more welding, painting and other preparations will be made before the vessel is floated for testing.

Compared to a typical barge, there is much more shape to it,” said McFadden. In fact, McFadden noted, the design is closer to the Translink SeaBus than a barge. “It’s very much like a catamaran with a high section in the middle to house the controls.”

The life expectancy of the plant is anywhere from 25 to 40 years, depending on maintenance of the mechanical components. The Switch, a Finnish company that is a pioneer in advanced power conversion technology focused on renewable energy industrial solutions, will supply the one-MW full-power converter; and Brevini Gear Systems has designed and developed totally integrated mechanical and electrical drivetrain including cooling and lubricating systems.

In addition to federal government funding, a key partner in the project is the Nordstrom family who own Dent Island Lodge and who have provided the test location. If successful, they will reap the benefit of the lower power costs.

The future

Given that extensive testing has already produced successful results on smaller-scale models, the prospects of success for the full-scale power plant are very good. And this is just the start. Two additional projects are pending once the Dent Island project has been established but Sredzki and his team see the potential for worldwide use: “The massive energy extraction capacity, coupled with low energy production cost, construction and installation simplicity, low installation and maintenance costs plus the absolute eco and bio-friendliness should make the WWT System one of the most innovative and superior systems available.”