A Portland company that is pioneering methods to harness river and tidal energy has received a $5.3 million grant to further its research.

The U.S. Energy Department announced Tuesday that Ocean Renewable Power Co. was among the 10 organizations selected to receive more than $20 million in funding for new research, development and demonstration projects that advance the generation of electricity from ocean waves and tidal currents.

ORPC, which has been testing hydrokinetic energy systems since 2009, was one of three demonstration projects selected for funding. It will use the money to enhance the performance of its tidal turbine system to capture higher flow velocities and reduce the cost of operations, which should ultimately lower the cost of energy. “We’ve been working on this for three years, it’s a big deal for us,” said Chris Sauer, chief executive officer of ORPC, of the grant.

In 2012, the company’s tidal power project in Cobscook Bay near Eastport became the first to connect to a utility grid in the U.S. Sauer said ORPC intends to use the grant to attract more investment and further refine a larger, commercial version of its “TidGen” unit, which the company is calling its “version 2.0.”

“We need to make the system more cost effective and reliable,” he said.

Total cost for the project is $9,962,078. ORPC has received nearly $1 million from Maine Technology Asset Fund and is seeking private investment, primarily from wealthy individuals and foundations, for the remainder.

Sauer said he’s targeting those investors because they are typically more receptive to projects that benefit the environment and mitigate climate change, benefits that “go beyond return on investment.”

ORPC will be testing its TidGen version 2.0 using information from 11 previous in-water deployments. The project will be located in Western Passage, an inlet off the Bay of Fundy, off the coast of Maine. The company received preliminary approval for the Western Passage project last month from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

Sauer said if he’s able to raise the financing, he expects the design phase of the project to get underway this fall, with a device ready to put in the water in 2018.

“Our projections show in our target market, this will be a profitable power system,” said Sauer.

The company has identified remote, rural areas as its target market, where energy generation and transmission costs can be exorbitant.

The company previously developed a smaller unit dubbed “RivGen,” which was successfully tested in Alaska. The project involved installing submersible turbines in the Kvichak River to generate power for the remote Alaskan village of Igiugig. A pilot project, the technology was tested for two years and successfully demonstrated that it can provide one-third of the electrical power needs of the village. The project won an innovation award earlier this year from the National Hydropower Association.

Last year, ORPC opened an office in Ireland to test smaller hydrokinetic projects in County Donegal. It intends to use that as a foothold into the European energy market.

Besides the three demonstration projects, the Energy Department awarded money to seven organizations that are testing environmental monitoring technologies to protect wildlife and reduce environmental impacts.

Recent studies conducted by the Energy Department found that America’s technically recoverable wave energy resource ranges between approximately 900 and 1,230 terawatt-hours (TWh) per year.

For context, approximately 90,000 homes can be powered by 1 TWh per year. With more than 50 percent of the U.S. population living within 50 miles of coastlines, there is vast potential to provide clean, renewable electricity to communities and cities in U.S. coastal areas, the release said.

Carol Coultas can be contacted at 791-6460 or

[email protected]

Twitter: carolacoultas

This story was changed to correct the spelling of the TidGen power system.