If the ocean can bring us powerful storms like we saw a few weeks ago, how might we find a way to harness its power? We were so incapacitated without electricity, and I’ve been thinking about how strange it is that there was all of this energy created in the storm that we just couldn’t capture. Electricity is really just the storage of energy in one form to be used in another, so it seems somewhat maddening to listen to the howl of the wind and the crashing of the waves and yet be literally powerless.

Of course, there are ways to capture this energy. For example, just after the storm, I walked over the bridge between Topsham and Brunswick past the dam that fuels Central Maine Power’s hydro power station and it was certainly providing a lot of power at that point, the falls rushing wildly over the dam after all the extra rain.

In fact, as far as renewable sources of energy, Maine gets about a quarter of its supply from hydro power plants. I was curious to figure out more about how this worked and ended up watching several YouTube videos intended for kids, but that quite clearly showed how the turbines that are turned by the flowing water function. This technology has been around for a long time in its most basic form, like the water wheel or the powering of textile mills, like the old Cabot Mill right by the present day hydro power plant.

But what about the ocean? There is some really neat technology out there for capturing ocean energy – both wind and tidal. The University of Maine has been testing floating platform technology for wind turbines. Their Aqua Ventus project has been in the testing phase off Monhegan Island.

Designing a turbine for the rocky Maine sea floor is not a simple task, as the turbines have to be attached to floating platforms that are anchored to the bottom by super-hero strength systems. This is because where the wind is on the Maine coast is in deep waters where it doesn’t make sense to have a fixed structure. Much of the floating platform technology depends on kryptonite-like composite materials that can withstand the forces of the ocean.

The University of Maine team has gotten substantial federal funding for the testing phase and is now working on next steps. The goal is to build a 12 megawatt wind project that could provide power to the remote island that is now dependent on a diesel generator. They’ve spent the last eight years since the project’s inception studying marine life and bird migration at the site to minimize environmental impacts. In addition, they’ve been doing some super-cool undersea survey work to look at the best spots for siting. You can learn more about this directly at www.maineaquaventus.com.

And then, there’s tidal energy. Maine has some amazing tidal movement including tides up by the Bay of Fundy that are greater than 40 feet – some of the largest in the world. The trick, as with wind, is to find out the best spots to harness this power and then to design a structure that is efficient enough and strong enough to capture it.

Ocean Renewable Power Company, a company based in Portland, first tested their TidGen device in the Bay of Fundy and then installed another system in Cobscook Bay. These turbines can be floating, similar to the wind platforms, or can have a fixed frame attached to the sea floor. They have worked closely with the surrounding communities to employ local people, as well as to get their input on the project design. ORPC’s website has some great videos showing how these turbines work at www.orpc.co.

Maine isn’t the only place where ocean power is being captured for energy. Rhode Island built the first offshore wind farm in the United States last year and has begun successfully generating and transmitting electricity. Other projects are proposed in Massachusetts and New York. All of these projects are able to use fixed platform technology similar to what has already been successfully implemented in many places in Europe.

Maine’s floating platform technology is the first of its kind, which is exciting for those working on it, but also quite challenging.

So, next time when the ocean winds howl and the waves come crashing, maybe your response to its power will be a bit different – a bit more curious about its potential to be harnessed for our energy needs.