Cook Inlet tidal energy potential tops in the nation

Jun 23, 2021

Credit NREL

The technology for tapping the energy behind the tides to generate electricity has lagged behind other forms of sustainable energy. Which is unfortunate, as the tides in Cook Inlet have a low-to-high swing of up to 30-feet.
Levi Kilcher of Homer is working on a new study this summer to learn more about the Inlet’s tides. He says he first started thinking about the energy potential as a child growing up on Kachemak Bay.
    “I grew up as my dad's right hand. And he's kind of a frenetic guy, always. He's always looking for the next big challenge. And he also owns a freight business that ships freight all around the Inlet. And so it was probably on one of those trips with him, I was deck-handing, driving across the inlet and we started talking about the large tides, right. Anyone who spends time on the water here is aware of the large tidal amplitudes that we have. And so we started talking about wouldn't it be cool’”
    Kilcher works for the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and is trying to determine the best spots in the country for tapping into all kinds of ocean energy, not just tides.
    “We also look at other types of marine resources, such as ocean thermal energy and ocean current energy that typically is the Gulf stream. We look at where the resources are,” he said. “We quantify the total resource for the country, for each of these different resource types. And then DOE uses that to make decisions on what types of projects or sites they want to look at and what types of technologies they want to invest.”
    And while we see the rise and fall of the tides and think the energy will be drawn from that movement, Kilcher says the real potential is in the tidal current.
    “And so we look for sites where the title flow is pinched by the geography and the flow. You know, the flow accelerates to basically squeeze through that tight spot and the Forlands here in the Nikiski area, are one of those locations. And so you combine that really high tidal amplitudes that we have in this area, that pinch point and it ends up being the number one tidal energy site in the country right here in Nikiski.”
    Kilcher says tapping that current is not that different from tapping air currents with wind turbines. Except it’s harder.
    “You know, I often tell people that the technology is essentially underwater wind turbines. And people often will say, well, that sounds simple enough; we've got those, right?” he said. “And I'm like, well do you remember the part where I said it was underwater? The ocean is a very challenging environment and. But it's also really exciting. It's an exciting time to be in, in this industry.”
    Kilcher spoke about the project on last week’s Kenai Conversation from KDLL, which KBBI rebroadcast on the Coffee Table.