PLAT-I’s potential attracted the attention of Inerjys, a Montreal-based investment fund whose founder, Stephane Ouaknine, aspires to disrupt the global clean-tech industry by making new technologies commercially viable.
Ouaknine’s background is in telecommunications; in the 1990s, he built and successfully scaled up three technology companies, two of which he sold to publicly-traded corporations. The third went public on the London Stock Exchange. For a second act, Ouaknine wants to apply his expertise to climate change solutions. Often, he says, clean-tech companies have no trouble attracting startup capital, but struggle when it comes time to bring a product to market. With PLAT-I, Inerjys invested in both the parent company, Schottel Hydro, and SME, helping to bring the technology out of the lab and into the water.
“If you listen to the climate scientists, they’re saying the march to renewables has to happen much faster,” says Ouaknine. “What we’re trying to focus on is technologies that will bring down the cost of clean energy, that will get deployed — otherwise you’re not actually moving the needle on emissions.”
But not everyone is as bullish on the future of tidal.
Penny Graham has operated Mariner Cruises Whale and Seabird Tours out of Westport since 1994 and worries about the potential impacts of projects such as PLAT-I on marine mammals who are already facing increased pressure from shipping and plastic pollution in the bay.
“It’s good to have new inventions and to have the ability to reap the benefits [of our tides], but are we going to bring harm?” she says. “Whales are our heritage, so that is my concern.”
Graham has suggested protective baskets could be installed around PLAT-I’s turbines to prevent injury to passing cetaceans. “[Enclosing the turbines] would give everybody peace of mind that they’ve done everything they can possibly do to protect what we’re so proud of,” she says.
Hayman says buy-in from the community is essential to the success of PLAT-I. SME’s long-term vision is “the democratization of energy.” By adding energy storage and grid stabilization (to manage supply and demand) to the platform, energy produced in Westport could power Westport businesses. “You can start creating a situation where these coastal communities can actually take control of their energy production.”
And maybe, finally, truly harness these powerful tides.