After a $10 million investment from the US Department of Energy, the nation’s first commercial, grid-tied tidal energy project will come online this summer off the coast of Maine.

Initially, the pilot project featuring Ocean Renewable Power Company’s (ORPC) TidGen Power System will generate enough electricity to power about 100 homes. Once expanded to full capacity, it will generate 3 MW of power, enough for more than 1,000 local homes and businesses. A 20 year purchase agreement was approved by the Maine Public Utilities Commission in order for ORPC to sell the generated electricity to three Maine utility companies.

The project was publicly recognized Tuesday by Energy Secretary Steven Chu. “Developing America’s vast renewable energy resources is an important part of President Obama’s all-of-the-above energy strategy to create jobs and strengthen U.S. global competitiveness,” said Chu. “The Eastport tidal energy project represents a critical investment to ensure America leads in this fast-growing global industry, helping to create new manufacturing, construction, and operation jobs across the country while diversifying our energy portfolio and reducing pollution.”

Tidal energy is generated by harnessing the kinetic energy of moving tides in order to generate electricity. Tidal energy, while currently more expensive than solar or wind, is much more predictable than both as tides never stop moving and thus don’t stop generating energy. Tidal energy systems are similar to wind turbines but are installed underwater, where they can capture the movement and flow of the currents and tides.

Off the coast of of Eastport, Maine where ORPC is installing its system, nearly 100 billion tons of water moves through Cobscook Bay during tidal shifts, carrying with it the force of 8,000 locomotives. Because it generates that much power, it’s no surprise that the Energy Department believes that there is about 1,420 TWh hours of annual generation potential from tidal and wave projects – enough to provide for 15 percent of our nation’s energy needs.

[via Equities]

Image Credit: ORPC