Researchers at the University of Victoria are floating a new idea that could bring clean, renewable power to British Columbia's remote coastal communities and end their dependence on diesel generators.
They're sending a highly customized buoy, equipped with a wind turbine and a 3D laser-scanning system, into the waters off the coast of Trial Island, south of Victoria, to measure wind, water temperature, pressure and more — all things that could inform where to put an offshore wind farm.
"There's an amazing offshore wind resource that exists on the B.C. coast and elsewhere in the world," researcher and mechanical engineering professor Curran Crawford said.
"So we're trying to position or get some data, some insights, in British Columbia of where wind energy potentials could be for future development of that resource."
The buoy will be stationed out there for about six months, during the windy, wavy winter, on what researchers call a 'shakedown cruise' so they can learn more about how the tool works.
Wind turbines on land account for a small percentage of global energy needs, but have become increasingly popular, according to researcher and co-lead on the project Brad Buckham.
However, wind energy produced by turbines located in the ocean hasn't had the same attention, mostly due to the lack of existing data needed to develop efficient systems.
Crawford said there are plans to work with the Haida Nation to put offshore wind farms around Haida Gwaii, and other coastal First Nations have expressed interest in the project as part of their own energy planning.
"It takes a lot to get a large wind project off the ground," Crawford said.
"So we're trying to help out and kind of do some of that initial looking around at resources, understanding, thinking about potential."
Research scientist Chloe Immonen, who joined the project in 2019, says the trial will not only benefit remote communities hoping to replace diesel but will also give a better understanding of the way wind can be harnessed to create sustainable energy.
"We've known for decades now that fossil fuels are probably the biggest reason for the climate change that we're all experiencing," she said.
"And so I think the only way forward is to get ourselves less reliant on fossil fuels and focus on what's going to be working in the future."