Swarms of Floating Marine Turbines Could Harvest Power from the Gulf Stream

Advocates say harnessing the Gulf Stream could create one-third of Florida's energy needs. Image: NASA

While most marine power projects rely on turbines or other power-generating devices in relatively shallow water, researchers from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University are attempting a new spin on the concept: Creating swarms of floating turbines, tethered to the sea floor or on movable undersea platforms, and deployed in the Gulf Stream hundreds of feet below the ocean's surface.BBC News quotes Professor Darris White on the promise of creating autonomous swarming marine turbines:

Even though the Gulf Stream [between Florida and Bermuda] is constrained between two bodies of land, the flow rate and location of peak velocity will change, based on seasonal and weather conditions. Swarm intelligence can achieve two goals. One is to find the sweet spot of the Gulf Stream, which is the location where the array will achieve maximum power output. The other goal is to find the array orientation and alignment that provides optimal efficiency.

From the technical side, the turbines--which from concept illustrations are pretty much ordinary marine turbines suspended below a floating, directional ballast--would be equipped with sensors enabling them to communicate and move in unison to the strongest point of the current within 1 kilometer.

They would be tethered to the seafloor or a platform from which a transmission line would send the power back to shore--30 to 50 on the turbines working together would have have a 15-20 MW capacity.

Big Challenges Remain
It all sounds like and exciting engineering feat to be tackled, for sure. But I can't help but intuitively agree with the skeptical and more sober voices of some of the marine power pros also quoted by the BBC.

Trey Taylor of Verdant Power (which built the turbine project in New York City's East River): "It will require a herculean effort to tackle this approach. Collectively, the industry does not know enough about all the variables that need to be addressed in this effort."

When a single 1 MW marine turbine being unveiled still rightly is big news it certainly seems like we're leagues away from deploying autonomous turbine swarms 50 in number half a mile below the waves.

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More on Marine Power:
World's Largest Tidal Turbine Unveiled in Scotland - Yes, It's Humungous
Canadian 200 MW Commercial Tidal Power Project Announced
1 Gigawatt of Marine Power to be Developed by Aquamarine Power in the UK & Ireland

Tags: Hydropower | Renewable Energy | Wave Power