Select Committee on Science and Technology Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Blue Energy Canada

  The last decade has seen the emergency of a variety of creative technologies to harness the kinetic energy of ocean waves.

  Now, Blue Energy Canada, a Canadian company based in Vancouver*, is poised to enter the renewable energy market with the Davis Hydro Turbine that converts the high-density, renewable energy of ocean currents and tides, estuary out-flows and rivers into electricity. Developed by veteran aerospace engineer Barry Davis**, the turbine bearing his name is comprised of a vertical axis rotary unit fixed with foils and housed in a concrete marine caisson that can either float or be anchored in place. Six prototypes of the turbine prototypes (4-100kW) have been built and tested under the auspices of the National Research Council of Canada and independent assessments have verified feasibility.

  The Blue Energy power system offers two unique advantages, one a benefit of nature, the second, an engineering feature. The first advantage is found in the high energy density of ocean currents. Sea water is 832 times as dense as air, providing an 8 knot ocean current with the equivalent kinetic energy of a 390km/h wind.

  The second advantage rests in the design of the foils that Davis engineered according to specific hydrodynamic lift principles, allowing the turbine to optimally capture the kinetic energy of the flowing water. Tapping this power, the Blue Energy power system can satisfy electricity demands in the multiple-gigawatt range by linking "Ocean Class" Davis Hydro Turbines (7-14MW each) in series across an ocean passage. Smaller energy loads can be met by deploying the Blue Energy "Mid-Range" 250kW power system in off-grid communities, remote industrial sites and regions with established net metering policies.

  An additional advantage for the Blue Energy power system is common to other ocean energy extraction technologies, PV systems and wind power generations, namely, that the technology does not rely on fuel to produce electricity nor does it emit greenhouse gases.


  Historically, a number of tidal energy-production plants have been built around the world, the largest being a240MW tidal power plant in La Rance, France, built in the 1960s. Still operating today, the La Rance ocean power development has commercially proven the tides as a large viable source of sustainable energy. Using conventional hydro turbines, the La Rance system depends on a high tidal range, necessitating water capture behind a capital-intensive dam structure. Another similar, smaller tidal power demonstration project (23MW) has been generating power in Nova Scotia's Bay of Fundy (eastern Canada) since it was built in the 1970s.

  In designing his turbine, Barry Davis viewed ocean energy as a reliable lateral, kinetic force rather than a vertical one. He came up with a new plan, inspired by an old concept patented, but never built, by French hydro engineer G J M Darrieus more than 50 years ago. Davis built his own versions and installed them in fast-moving water. With funding from the National Research Council in the 1980s, he tested his insights, from the St. Lawrence Seaway to the Florida Gulf Stream, and evolved a new type of low-head water turbine. With this form of turbine, there is no need to create a significant height-of-water difference and thus no need to build a water capture system such as the dam at La Rance. The result is Blue Energy's turbine fence concept in which the first turbine units placed in the water can be generating power immediately after installation and hook-up, and additional units affixed later with no power shutdown. Blue Energy plans also call for the construction of transportation corridors along the top of such turbine fences, offering multiple infrastructure services for one service price.


  Another advantage Blue Energy technology offers is its ability to integrate with existing energy grids and its relatively high energy capacity. Although cyclic by nature, electricity generated from ocean currents has the distinction of being highly predictable and consistent. Tide tables can be used to project power outputs, greatly simplifying its integration with large energy grids and increasing its economic value.


  The term "Capacity Factor" is used in the energy industry to represent the availability of a power source, as a percentage of its total peak capacity (also referred to as "Capacity Value" or "Capacity Credit"). A power plant with a peak capacity rating of 500 MW that actually produces an average 400 MW of electricity, totalling 3.5 TWh per year, would have a capacity factor of 80 per cent.

  Fuel-based power sources like coal, natural gas and nuclear generally have very high capacity factors, between 70 per cent to 95 per cent, so long as fuel supply is secure. Renewable energy technologies like wind and solar PV typically have capacity factors between 20 per cent to 35 per cent, sometimes as high as 40 per cent, depending on the resource quality. Ocean energy facilities using first-generation Davis Hydro Turbine technology will generally have capacity factors between 40 per cent to 60 per cent, the variance being due to site differences and predictable fluctuations in tidal flows.

  Although ocean energy is intermittent by nature, following the sinewave-like ebb and flow of the tides, these cycles are well established and occur with great consistency. Power production from ocean energy facilities can be accurately predicted far in advance, permitting convenient integration with energy grids. Power exchanges can count on schedules deliveries, giving ocean energy a higher value per MW of capacity.

  As tidal flows vary by region, different sites will have varying periods of peak power production. When the output from several ocean energy facilities is combined, the electricity levels complement one another, resulting in more consistent delivery while maintaining the already-high level of reliability. This makes integration with energy grids and interties even easier, a definite advantage in countries with still-regulated energy markets and centralised power plants.


  Several converging factors are increasing the flexibility of power grids and reducing the barriers associated with intermittent energy sources. These include the trends of worldwide deregulation, establishment of net metering policies, preference for distributed generation and rapid growth in the renewable energy sector.

  Ocean energy appears in position to be well received in the energy marketplace. Distinguished by its predictable pattern of power production, ocean energy also has high power density (kW/square metre) and abundant resources worldwide.

  Preliminary estimates by Blue Energy, working from various government databases, suggest that many countries are well-endowed with ocean energy resources amenable to the Blue Energy system, including all countries of the United Kingdom, Norway, Germany, Canada, the US, China, Taiwan, Japan, the Philippines, India and Argentina.

  Martin Burger, president and CEO of Blue Energy, estimates that up to 1/3 of the world's energy needs could be met by tapping ocean energy resources.

  "Wind and solar technologies have evolved remarkably in recent years," Burger says. "But the oceans are offering us an energy source of much higher density and greater reliability than any other renewable for the foreseeable future".

  Blue Energy's vision encompasses not only mega projects on the ocean, but also river and estuary units that could power a village and fit in a small pick-up truck. Burger, a native of Canada's Northwest Territories, anticipates the Blue Energy Mid-Range power units will provide renewable electricity to aboriginal communities in Canada's north and other remote communities worldwide and help offset the expensive and polluting diesel fuel that such communities now must import.

  Since the signing of the Kyoto Accord in 1997, Blue Energy has given detailed presentations to delegations from China, Taiwan and India and numerous investors. They have met with representatives from BC Hydro, BP-Amoco and NCC-Norge (Norway) to discuss joint venture projects. They also have a letter of commitment for funding from the Philippine government to construct a four-kilometre turbine fence which, when completed, will comprise the world's largest renewable energy project (this project is currently on hold until political activity in the Philippines stabilises).

  In the same period Blue Energy has expanded its workforce to include a blue-ribbon engineering team that has advanced the technology design and a sustainability-savvy advisory team that includes global energy expert and futurist Dr. Hazel Henderson (author, Paradigms in Progress and former adviser to the US Office of Technology Assessment). To Henderson, Blue Energy is "low-hanging fruit on the renewable energy tree," and set for massive, global deployment.

  Facing the task of growing a small technology company into a global one is one of several challenges Blue Energy must meet in gaining solid footing on its commercialisation path.

  One of these challenges Blue Energy shares with other renewable technologies, namely that of breaking into a market dominated by fossil fuel, nuclear and conventional hydroelectric interest groups that are used to controlling the energy market and acquiring the lion's share of government subsidies.

  By virtues of it being an ocean energy technology pioneer, Blue Energy also faces the disadvantage of being relatively unknown or being misunderstood as a tidal power technology that relies on a barrage system and tidal amplitude to generate power.

  Mention ocean energy technology, Burger says, and many listeners immediately think of building expensive dams, siltation problems, and a need for high tidal amplitude differentials.

  "We have to work hard to dispel misconceptions about our technology," says Burger.

  After he explains the relative simplicity and high-density returns of the Davis Turbine, Burger says he also sometimes faces incredulous dismissal.

  "A lot of people actually say `if this technology works so well', somebody else would have though of it," Bulger says, shaking his head. "What is needed at this time is education about the resource potential and the political will to deploy the available technology".

  Part of Blue Energy's education package to potential investors, utility company executives and government bureaucrats includes several independent assessments that support the claims of the company.

  A feasibility analysis by the NRC's Director of Coastal Engineering Dr. Bruce Pratte, stated in 1991 that the Davis Turbine is "a proven concept, and outputs on the larger units can accurately be predicted to within two per cent accuracy".

  Another analysis by Dr. Harold Halvorson (Halvorson Marine Engineers, Victoria, British Columbia), conducted at the behest of the British Columbia government in 1994 asserted, "the technology works as claimed and is a credible development". Moreover, Halvorson said "In suitable sites, and many seem to exist, significant quantities of electricity might be generated on scales comparable to conventional power plants (hydro, thermal and nuclear)."

  In 1997, the Institute for New Energy, in Salt Lake City, Utah, ranked the Davis Turbine as "number one for commercial development" among 114 energy systems.

  Though foreign interests like the Philippines are interested in deploying the Blue Energy power system in mega-projects, a business goal for Blue Energy in the coming year is to construct and deploy a commercial-scale, mid-range power system. The company is presently seeking $12 million (USD) to build and situate two 250 kW, Mid-Range units at a remote fly-in resort east of Vancouver Island, off the coast of British Columbia, by the end of 2001.

  Deploying a working, commercial-scale unit is a vital step for the company at this time, Burger says. Critical development timelines at Blue Energy have been delayed by the lack of a working model and Burger regrets that previous models were reclaimed by the National Research Council after testing was complete.


  Many of the investors in Blue Energy to date are attracted to the technology because of its environmental attributes. Anchoring a turbine fence, or individual unit, to the ocean floor will create comparable disturbance to a marine bridge or pier structure. During operation, it is expected that the slow-moving turbines (approx. 25 rpm) will not impede smaller marine organisms like fish or invertebrates. For larger mammals, like seals and whales, the company anticipates constructing a sonar warning system or protective cages. To stem marine fouling, the company is researching non-toxic materials that are now being applied to boat hulls and other marine infrastructures.

  These characteristics, coupled with its zero-emission signature, have garnered the praise of Jim Fulton, executive director of the David Suzuki Environmental Foundation (Vancouver), who describes the Davis Turbine as having "the lightest of environmental footprints".

  More information about Blue Energy Canada and the Davis Hydro Turbine may be found at

(*Blue Energy Canada Inc. of Vancouver was formerly known as Nova Energy Ltd., and located in Nova Scotia)

(** Recently retired inventor Barry Davis is a part time consultant to Blue Energy Canada. He lives in Nova Scotia)


  Clarke, B, 1987—"Tidal Power and Canada—A Review" Natural Resources Canada-DSS Contract #EMR—FPS—86—0003

  Darrieus, G J M, 1931—"Turbine having its Rotating Shaft Transverse to the Flow of the Current." U.S. Patent #1,835,018.

  Davis, B V, 1980—"Water Turbine Model Trials to Demonstrate the Feasibility of Extracting Kinetic Energy from River and Tidal Currents", Nova Energy Limited Report No. NEL-002, for National Research Council of Canada.

  Davis, B V, Swan, D H, 1981b—"Ultra Low Head Hydroelectric Power Generation Using Ducted Vertical Axis Water Turbines", Nova Energy Report No. NEL-021, for National Research Council of Canada.

  Davis, B V, Swan, D H, 1982a—"Ultra Low Head Hydroelectric Power Generation Using Ducted Vertical Axis Water Turbines", Nova Energy Ltd. Report No. NEL-022, for National Research Council of Canada.

  Davis, B V, et al, 1982b—"Research and Development of a Ducted Vertical Axis Water Turbine", Nova Energy Report No. NEL-032 for National Research Council of Canada.

  Davis, B V, et al, 1984a—"Research and Development of a 100 kW Vertical Axis Hydro Turbine for a Restricted flow Installation (Model B-2)", Nova Energy Ltd. Report No NEL-038 for National Research Council of Canada.

  Davis, B V, et al, 1984b—"The Ducted Vertical Axis Hydro Turbine for Large Scale Tidal Energy Applications", Nova Energy Ltd. Report No. NEL-070 for H A Simons (International) Ltd.

  Davis, B V, Swan, D H, 1985—"Commissioning and Testing of a 100 kW Vertical Axis Hydraulic Turbine (Model B-2)", Nova Energy Ltd. Report No. NEL-081 for National Research Council of Canada.

  Davis, B V, et al, 1986b—"Generation of Electrical Power From The Florida Current of The Gulf Stream", paper for the 18th Offshore Technology Conference in Houston, Texas. Ref. TC 5120.

  Davis, B V, et al, 1989—"Vertical Axis Hydro Turbines for `Off Grid' Installations", Presented at Waterpower 89 in Niagara Falls N.Y. A joint paper with National Energy Laboratory, the National Research Council of Canada, and Natural Resources Canada.

  Halvorson, H N, 1994—"Evaluation of Nova Energy Ltd's Hydro Turbine", Rept. for the British Columbia Ministry of Employment and Investment.

  Swan, D H, Davis, B V, 1984b—"The Canadian Vertical Axis Hydro Turbine Program—Tidal Applications", paper presented at the Energex Conference in Regina, Saskatchewan, May 1984.

  Swan, D H, et al, 1986—"The Darrieus Hydraulic Turbine—Model and Field Experiments", paper presented at the Fourth International Symposium On Hydro Power Fluid Machinery, ASME, California, National Research Council of Canada and Nova Energy Ltd.

February 2001

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Prepared 8 May 2001