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Director of Marine Current Technology, Verdant Power
Developer, New York, New York
Tidal flows, ocean waves and free-flowing rivers hold vast amounts of energy that can be converted into electricity using a new array of up-and-coming technologies. The combined potential of all these hydrokinetic sources in the United States is estimated to be 400 terawatt-hours annually—enough to power more than 67 million homes!
Dean Corren sees great potential when he looks out on New York City's East River. The river's little-navigated East Channel runs beneath several large bridges connecting Manhattan to the other boroughs. That fact, combined with the channel's strong tidal currents, makes it a promising site for harnessing pollution-free hydrokinetic power.
Corren's company, Verdant Power, has installed six 35-kilowatt hydroturbines in the river along the eastern shore of Roosevelt Island. The Roosevelt Island Tidal Energy (RITE) Project is currently capable of generating 1,000 kilowatt hours of power every day—enough to power more than 50 average homes—and is the first hydrokinetic project in the world to provide electricity to residential and business customers.
"An advantage of tidal currents is that they can be predicted out many years into the future, so the power can be reliably dispatched for energy use," said Corren, Verdant Power's director of marine current technology.
Corren, 53, has been studying kinetic energy since the 1980s, when he was a student at New York University. He remembers when energy security, cost stabilization and environmental threats were just emerging as national issues, and he was a bit ahead of the curve: He wrote his 1980 master's thesis on an energy plan to avoid global warming.
"There was a constantly growing awareness of the need to do other things besides burning fossil fuels," he said.
By 1985, Corren was helping design and construct a 15-foot, full-scale hydroturbine prototype to test in the East River. But there was not much interest in the technology at the time, so Corren worked as a consultant and started a computer company based on one of his patents. After moving to Vermont, in 1993 Corren was elected to the Vermont House of Representatives, where he served until 2000.
Meanwhile, Corren said hydrokinetic energy began to gain attention as a viable form of power in Europe in the late 1990s, and entrepreneurs in the United States began to take notice.
In 2000, the newly-formed Verdant Power contacted Corren and began wooing him to come back to New York just as he was leaving the Vermont House and taking a new position with a state legislator. They had seen his NYU research on hydrokinetic energy and a report that found the work he did in the early 1980s held the most promise for continued development. Three years later, Corren returned to pick up where he had left off nearly 20 years before.
"The entire time I was a legislator in Vermont, the things I had figured out in the 80s I never got out of my mind," said Corren. "So when this opportunity presented itself it was irresistible to follow through."
Verdant Power is now applying for a license from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to expand the RITE project to 30 turbines and provide power to customers of the local utility, Con Edison. Corren also is overseeing another East River site alongside the United Nations; a pilot project in Cornwall, Ontario, to test a new turbine mounting system; and a project for the U.S. Navy not far from Puget Sound.