It Floats!

I was thrilled to be on hand last Friday to see the launch of the VolturnUS 1:8 scale offshore floating wind turbine from the Cianbro facility in Brewer, ME. After so many years of talking about and working for the vision of offshore wind power development in the Gulf of Maine, it was amazing to see a unit actually placed in the water….and it floats, despite being made from concrete and composites! When connected to the grid in a few weeks, this will be the first floating wind turbine generating power in the US, and the first concrete turbine in the world.

In Maine, we need to focus our efforts toward a few initiatives with high impact where we are “meaningfully unique.” And, in this case, we have a surfeit of wind and ocean energy in the Gulf, and awesome engineers and designers who have figured out how to make devices that will survive in that environment.

While this vision was hatched by a few pioneers six years ago (Dr. Habib Dagher and George Hart, specifically), it’s been an amazing team effort of university, government and the private sector to make it happen. As I mentioned to Habib on Friday, I’m happy to have one tiny fingerprint on this achievement.

A study that I’m just finishing up for the Maine Energy and Environment Technology Council (E2Tech), funded by the Maine Technology Institute, in collaboration with Todd Gabe and Caroline Noblet at the University of Maine School of Economics, finds that the Clean Technology sector in the state, including renewable energy projects such as VolturnUS, grew 31% from 2003-2010, far outpacing the overall economy in Maine. This sector is a bright spot, growing even faster than biotechnology and information technology.

In large part, this growth is coming as a result of significant state and federal funding of research assets like Dr. Dagher’s research center, the Advanced Structures and Composites Center, and its sister organizations at the University of Maine, the Forest Bioproducts Research Institute and the Process Development Center. This is clearly a case where research is leading to development and commercialization with local impacts.

Added to the launch and successful inauguration of electric power generation by Ocean Renewable Power Company’s tidal turbines off Eastport, ME, last summer, a first in the US, we can now see meaningfully unique renewable energy solutions coming out of Maine.

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