FAU announced recently that researchers at its Southeast National Marine Renewable Energy Center (SNMREC) have signed a five-year lease to evaluate underwater turbines powered by ocean currents.
The lease, which was granted by the U.S. Department of the Interior's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), calls specifically for the researchers to test the turbines as a potential energy source in Florida's Gulf Stream. The current where the Gulf Stream is located is believed to have a consistent flow, something needed to generate energy with the turbines.
At least 50 graduate students (as well as some undergraduate students and faculty) will participate, according to Sue Skemp, director of SNMREC. She says the blades on the rotor of the turbine are ten feet in diameter.
"The energy is generated by the movement of water past the turbine," Skemp explained. "So the fluid itself is what is going to turn the rotors and move the rotors. And then within the body of the turbine is the generator capacity, and the electrons that are generated through that will actually not be transmitted to shore during this phase. It will be taken to the ship itself, where the turbine is going to be lowered and will be used either as power to generate the systems up there or dissipated as heat."
FAU first submitted its application to test turbines underwater in 2010, and the reason it took about four years probably has something to do with the precedent for it -- a nonexistent one.
"This is the first time a lease has been issued to test ocean current energy equipment in federal waters," Walter Cruickshank, BOEM's acting director, told PennEnergy.com. "The Gulf Stream contains a tremendous amount of energy, and this technology offers exciting potential to expand the nation's renewable energy portfolio."
Researchers at the school hope to drop the first turbine into the water sometime in winter, according to Skemp. One other thing that many have asked her but will remain unclear until testing begins is just how much power could be generated by the turbines.
"That's going to depend on the size of the turbine and on the strength of the Gulf Stream that it's rotating in or moving in, being propelled by the Gulf Stream," Skemp says. "For example, the turbine we have is rated to a max of 20 kilowatts of electricity. The amount that it actually generates, we'll know when we start testing it. Our lease allows us to test devices that are in a range of 100 kilowatts of power."
One. Hundred. Kilowatts.
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