Building up the tidal strait!

Jonathan Colby of the United States

By Philippa King Rojo

Jonathan is a Hydrodynamic Engineer with Verdant Power, a marine renewable energy company that has its main project in New York City’s East River. He has been with the company since 2006 after he completed a Master’s Degree in Aerospace Engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology. As a member of the company’s Engineering and Resource Assessment Teams, his work includes turbine blade design, hydrodynamic modelling, data processing and analysis, fieldwork, and general turbine operation responsibilities for both US and Canadian projects.

Jonathan Colby Jonathan Colby

Expert on marine renewable energy

Jonathan Colby is a US representative on IEC TC (Technical Committee) 114: Marine Renewable Energy, and a subject matter expert when it comes to developing standards for the assessment of power performance for tidal energy converters. Colby is also actively involved in outreach with organizations and universities in the New York City area.

Colby describes how the company for which he works has its main project in New York City's East River. "Contrary to what its name indicates," he says, "New York's East River is a tidal strait. We've developed a technology that captures energy from the moving water using turbines placed on the river's floor." His company has just been given the go ahead by the US FERC (Federal Energy Regulatory Commission) to install the first tidal energy pilot system for the RITE (Roosevelt Island Tidal Energy) project which is expected to generate electricity for 9 500 homes.

Involved in IEC TC 114 from the outset

Colby explains how he has been involved in this clean-energy technology, part of a new and emerging industry, almost since the outset. It has meant he has had to clear the various hurdles involved in moving from concept stage to prototyping, demonstration and then to commercialization of a product.

"Verdant Power," he says, "was approached early on by the US NC (National Committee) and asked to participate as a company in the newly formed TC 114 being set up to address renewable marine energy. We were particularly keen to participate from an early stage as we knew that the development of standards would be critical to the development of our industry."

As a result, he has been actively involved in standardization activities over the last four years, both as an expert in IEC TC 114/PT (Project Team) 62600-200 which is working on producing the first publication of a TS (Technical Specification), Power performance assessment of electricity producing tidal energy converters, and as the Chair of the US Shadow (NB mirror ) PT 62600-200. "There aren't that many developers of this type of technology in the world. So the IEC, through the US NC, were looking to our industry for guidance in setting down the basics because of the knowledge we have gained in deploying the technology." His participation has continued and at the end of January 2012, Colby was in Dublin for a meeting with his fellow PT team members. "Our group is well represented by developers and people from utilities, together with a few representatives from the academic world." In future, Colby will be taking on additional responsibility as Convenor of an MT (Maintenance Team).

Sharing experiences with other young professionals

Participation in the Young Professionals' Programme has not had a great impact on the physical development of the actual standards in which Colby is involved. But it has been invaluable in helping elevate the perception of his industry and bring the efforts of IEC TC 114 to the attention of a much broader group within the IEC. "Given how new our industry is, and how we're trying to reach a higher level of commercialization and viability, it's absolutely critical for this industry to have as much exposure as possible," he says.

"At the IEC General Meeting we repeatedly talked of the concepts of energy efficiency, renewable energy, the systems approach, connections, EMC (electromagnetic compatibility), EVs (electric vehicles) and Smart Grids. They were recurring themes. As a representative of an emerging industry, I'm able to share information with my fellow-YPs but moreover, because of the contact possibilities we were given through the programme, I've been able to discuss with the management level of IEC. That has been really valuable."

Contact with SMB and CAB particularly valuable

He explains how the YP Programme workshop in Melbourne, Australia, gave him the opportunity to attend the SMB (Standardization Management Board) and CAB (Conformity Assessment Board) meetings. "It was an excellent way for me to learn how the IEC operates at upper levels. It also gave me a better grasp of how the IEC coordinates standards’ development activities and functions in various global economic markets."

The workshop included an opportunity to lunch with SMB and CAB Members and converse with the convener of a working group on Conformity Assessment in the marine renewable energy industry. "In our particular industry, while the technology is important, there's also the maintenance side that's critical."

Aggressive fast-moving salt environment requires standards

Colby outlines how operating in a salt environment with fast flowing tidal movements is very challenging. It affects how repairs and maintenance are carried out and includes the barge operators, the boats, divers and so on. "We have to keep our objects operating. We're picking the fastest flowing bodies of water there are and going to the most energetic sites that exist. So having standards is very important, not only for the systems but also for their future maintenance too."

There's an important financial aspect involved in working in an emerging technology, he explains. It has to do with being able to reassure investors, users and authorities. Much of that can be obtained through standardization. "Because we're still in relative infancy we're perceived as being a high risk industry. We haven't fully addressed the reliability and longevity issues yet. So any progress we make is likely to encourage investors, insurers and regulators and so on and make them more likely to support our efforts than they would have done otherwise."

The role of standards in an emerging industry

“If I tell an investor that my turbine is producing 35 KW of power how does anyone know that's true? How can I substantiate that? With my TC WG (Working Group) we've developed a TS (Technical Specification) that, when followed, will lead to a result that can be trusted from a performance perspective. In turn, that provides the confidence that a turbine will function as we've claimed it will. It's all a matter of reducing the perceived risk."

Other networking opportunities

He feels the networking possibilities the YP programme gave him to work with his peers have also been beneficial. "My ability to contribute my experiences was very valuable. I was perhaps one of the more experienced individuals at the workshop so I was able to talk about my experience to the others and say how that functioned within the IEC. It's valuable for a team to have various levels of expertise at the YP workshop."

On a personal level he also gained. "The ability to interact with individuals from across the globe, each with widely varying backgrounds in science, engineering and IEC experience, was invaluable, as are the friendships I began with my fellow attendees. I was able to gain valuable insight into the way different countries and organizations utilize standards and contribute to the IEC. So, if it was good for me personally, it was also a valuable experience for Verdant Power, my company. Once the TC 114 publications are released, they are going to be highly useful."

Future role as a YP leader

At the completion of the three-day workshop in Melbourne, Colby was one of three leaders to be elected from the 2011 group. "I was honoured to be elected by my peers. Now I'm looking forward to giving some of my energy back to the group." He sees himself working to engage the 2011 members fully in the YP programme and going beyond the YP network to the IEC at large. "We plan to host web-based seminars highlighting a variety of relevant topics within the IEC, including the role of standardization in emerging industries, among others. I am excited to work closely with my fellow YPs to ensure we all remain active members in the standards development process, both nationally and internationally."

Encouraging NCs to participate in the programme

Colby points out the value there is to an NC in sending a Young Professional. "Beyond the value of their contribution, there is a good reason for any NC to send engineers or professionals from their country to participate in the programme. It puts their representatives in a place of visibility and provides valuable experience to young professionals, so in those terms it's very beneficial for any national committee.”

Jonathan Colby Jonathan Colby
Using fast flowing tidal energy (Source: Verdant Power) Using fast flowing tidal energy (Source: Verdant Power)
Turbine for tidal energy. Turbine for tidal energy.