A Nova Scotia tidal energy developer is floating the idea of a hybrid ferry for a Digby County route.

Fundy Tidal Inc. is involved in a research project aimed at developing a diesel-electric propulsion system for the replacement ferry planned for Grand Passage, located between Long and Brier islands.

“The evaluation is in the early stages, but ... a hybrid ferry powered partially by the tides would be a very beautiful thing,” Greg Trowse, the company’s chief technology officer, said via email from Dublin, Ireland.

The Fundy Tidal official is in that country this week attending the 4th International Conference on Ocean Energy, where he will present a paper on the topic.

Trowse, who is also a master’s student in physical oceanography at Dalhousie University in Halifax, said similar technology is also under development in Scotland.

The province’s transportation and infrastructure renewal minister said his department is looking at the possibility of having such technology in a new Grand Passage ferry.

“We’re going to leave the design open, so there’s a possibility of converting it to a battery-operated ferry, if we needed to in the future,” Maurice Smith said.

“It would have the capacity for both (diesel and electricity).”

Smith said E.Y.E. Marine Consultants of Dartmouth is working on design specifications for the new vessel, which the department hopes to have out to tender in January.

The existing diesel ferry, MV Joe Casey, is 18 years old.

The ferry replacement comes at a time Fundy Tidal is looking for ways to use the electricity it plans to produce from $30-million worth of proposed Digby County projects.

The Westport developer has Energy Department approval for a 1.95-megawatt project in Digby Gut, the passage near the nearby town’s harbour.

The province has also OK’d a 500-kilowatt project in Petit Passage, between Long Island and Digby Neck.

Fundy Tidal has also proposed a third project, a 500-kilowatt venture in Grand Passage, as part of the province’s community feed-in tariff program.

The goal is to have machines operating in 2015 to 2016.

But with little room on the system for more renewable electricity in that region, Fundy Tidal officials are exploring various technologies that involve storing electricity.

Trowse said the hybrid ferry project was prompted by the fact many Maritime communities have lots of tidal energy potential but little room on aging electricity systems for the energy. “The role of community energy developers such as Fundy Tidal extends beyond addressing the direct challenges of harnessing marine energy to supporting local economies, and balancing regrowth and energy extraction for a sustainable future,” he told a teleconference earlier Tuesday.

The project also involves Dalhousie University’s physical oceanography and mechanical engineering departments and Acadia University’s Tidal Energy Institute.

Funding has been provided by the Canada Excellence Research Chairs program, Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency and the Offshore Energy Research Association of Nova Scotia.

ACOA Minister Bernard Valcourt said the Irish conference, which has attracted 750 participants from around the world, is a good way to showcase the marine renewable sector that is emerging in Canada and this region in particular.

“Our presence here will allow Canadian companies and research institutes to highlight their technologies to the world,” he told reporters via teleconference.

“It will also enable Canadian businesses to better understand the significant opportunities related to the ocean-energy industry.”

Canada’s trade mission to the event includes 22 organizations and businesses, 11 of them with Nova Scotia ties.

ACOA contributed $78,000 to help fund the mission, while Natural Resources Canada kicked in $20,000.

Story by Joann Alberstat
The Halifax Chronicle Herald
October 16, 2012