Imagine having electric charging stations in Motorgate that use the power of the tide to charge cars. Or a superstorm that renders all of New York City dark, except for our own brightly lit sliver of land between Manhattan and Queens, because, instead of fossil fuels, our power is generated by the ever-flowing East River.
This is the future Trey Taylor, co-founder of Verdant Power, envisions. He’s hoping Island residents will help make it a reality.
New York-based startup, Verdant Power, develops technology for generating and storing marine renewable energy, essentially using the regular motion of the tides to create electricity. Since 2002, the startup has been testing prototypes of its technology just off the eastern shore of Roosevelt Island as part of the Roosevelt Island Tidal Energy (RITE) Project. They are currently raising funds to install the newest version of their Free Flow System at the site, a project they say will put Roosevelt Island at the forefront of this innovative clean-energy technology.
The company is hosting an information session at the Senior Center (546 Main Street) on March 29, 5:30-9:00 p.m., to discuss the project and to ask residents for support.
“Roosevelt Island residents get it,” says Taylor. “I want to get the whole community involved and make this their project so they feel an ownership of what’s going on here.”
In a previous demonstration at the RITE site, Verdant Power installed six tidal turbines. Photos by Verdant Power.
Despite what its name suggests, the East River surrounding Roosevelt Island is actually a tidal strait, with a strong current that ebbs and floods throughout the day. The RITE project, which is located in the East Channel just north of the Roosevelt Island Bridge, explores how the kinetic energy of that steady current can safely and efficiently be harnessed and turned into electricity.
In 2005, to test the commercial viability of its tidal technology, Verdant Power began a first-of-its-kind, multi-year demonstration that connected a series of six tidal turbines to the City’s power grid. Using the turbines, the company was able to generate and deliver electricity in conjunction with ConEd, to the Motorgate parking garage and the Island’s grocery store, Gristedes.
As a result, in 2012, Verdant received the first U.S. commercial licence to generate tidal energy.
As part of that approval process, Verdant Power had to pass a rigorous environmental impact assessment process involving 23 agencies and environmental groups, including the Coast Guard and the Army Corps of Engineers. Taylor says the company was able to demonstrate that the rotation does not affect fish, birds, or animals, which swim around, rather than through, the turbines’ slowly revolving rotors.
Now the “early growth” stage company is hoping to begin the final phase of development, installing as many as 30 next-generation turbines on an array of 10 frames. The 30 turbine/generators might be used with: hybrid power systems for Roosevelt Island; energy storage systems for the City; reverse osmosis systems for potable water; electric vehicle and vessel charging stations; electrolysis systems for hydrogen production for stationary fuel cells; and perhaps for underwater data centers.
“We want to make every neighborhood sustainable,” says Taylor. “We’re not stopping climate change. It’s here, and it’s coming on hard and fast. As entrepreneurs, we are all about bringing solutions to problems people are identifying, and asking, ‘How can we tackle this collectively?’”
He says their mission is to help build sustainable communities through a holistic approach to clean-energy generation, including solar and wind. One of the greatest challenges in transitioning the energy market to renewable power, according to Verdant, is the unreliable nature of wind and solar power – currently the two most common sources of green energy. River and tidal flows, however, are predictable, making it possible to produce energy in a reliable way according to the demand.
Taylor doesn’t see his company as a competitor to traditional energy providers so much as a partner, and he says ConEd is on board with the concept. “Con Ed loves the idea of having more battery banks around the City so they can pull from them,” he says. “Those batteries would get recharged from our tidal power here, because tides are so predictable.”
He hopes that, with the RITE project, located just across the river from the three power plants in Astoria and Long Island City that currently produce more than 50 percent of New York City’s power, Verdant can demonstrate that there are real alternatives to fossil fuels.
But, to accomplish any of that, the project will require funding.
“What we’re working against is that America is an oil and gas country,” says Taylor. “China just announced they’re going to lead the world in renewable energy. This is where the world is going.” But not so in the U.S., he says. “The federal government is backing off because of this administration, so the states are picking it up, specifically New York and California. As a start-up company we have to do it on our own dime, and that’s what takes time.”
To help move the project forward, Verdant recently launched a crowdfunding campaign, with the goal of raising $1 million in small amounts from regular citizens.
“It allows us to keep the lights on in our own home while getting back into the water; it keeps us going and keeps us employed,” explains Taylor. “The community will not only have an investment interest, but a vested interest.”
The idea, he says, is to democratize the corporate financing process. Individuals can invest in the project for $70 or more. “That’s where we are, getting the money to keep pushing things forward. The boulder is almost at the top of the hill. All we’re doing is turning back to our friends on Roosevelt Island and asking them to help us push it over the top.”
Taylor would also like to find a way to create a visual representation of the largely invisible process of collecting tidal energy – perhaps working with Cooper Union or another art school in New York City to create an artistic display that is powered by the tide.“It could be something as simple as a Roosevelt Island icon, like the lighthouse,” he says. “As the light comes up really bright, everybody driving on the FDR says, ‘Oh, the tide must be flowing.’”
The community is invited to stop by the Senior Center at 546 Main Street on Thursday March 29, 5:30-9:00 p.m. To RSVP, go to www.verdantpowerri.eventbrite.com. For more on the company’s crowdfunding campaign, visit www.netcapital.com/companies/verdant.