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Florida’s Green Ocean Energy

Center of Excellence in Ocean Energy Technology

eastcoast_june84Florida‘s cleanest and most abundant source of renewable energy is its oceans. The Gulf Stream is the strongest current in the world, it flows northward past the southern and eastern shores of Florida, funneling through the Florida Straits with a mass transport greater than 30 times the total freshwater river flows of the world – over eight billion gallons per minute. The warm, surface water of the Gulf Stream overlays much colder deep water that flows through the depths of the ocean and into the Florida Straits from the Arctic regions, yielding an energy-rich and stable source of ocean thermal power. The cold, deep ocean water also has enormous potential for cold water air-conditioning (up to 45% of Florida’s residential electricity consumption is used for air conditioning) and environmental mitigation. These energy sources can supply all of Florida’s energy needs. The kinetic energy of the Gulf Stream has significant potential to supply Florida with much of its needed consumer electricity, provided that technically-feasible and environmentally-friendly harvesting technology can be developed.

fla-1Florida is the nation’s fourth most populous state and ranks third nationally in total energy consumption. With a population is over 19 million with nearly 1,000 new residents arriving daily, the state’s energy demand is expected to increase by 30% in ten years. Natural gas, coal and other emission-causing fossil fuels compose more than 81% of Florida’s electricity-generating capacity. During peak demand, Florida’s electricity consumption exceeds its generation capability and it is completely reliant on out-of-state fuel sources for electricity generation. In markets like South Florida’s, demand is quickly outpacing capacity and there is no land available to build new power plants. Burning oil, natural gas and coal not only release emissions such as CO2, NOx, SO2 and mercury into the environment, but also heat the local waters. In addition, nearly 20% of Florida’s power generation comes from nuclear power plants which generate radioactive waste. The Boca Raton based Florida State University (FSU), is focused on the fact that for a sustainable and secure future, Florida must pursue a clean energy future and a path of energy independence. Areas of this focus include ocean current and thermal systems, cold, deep ocean water-based air-conditioning, underwater hydrogen generation and storage, and environmental impact and mitigation.

FSU’s Center for Ocean Energy Technology is in a synergistic partnership among academia, industry and government laboratories combining expertise in ocean engineering and science, fabrication and testing, utilizing the South Florida Testing Facility range to foster the research, design, development, implementation, testing, and commercialization of cutting-edge ocean energy technologies that are cost-competitive with existing fossil-fuel-based power generation. At the Center, ocean engineers are working with marine, environmental and material scientists to develop cost-competitive technologies to commercialize the energy within the Gulf Stream. One such pilot program, the Ocean Turbine Project, is scheduled to deploy by spring 2010.

fla-2Submerged at a depth of 30 feet, the underwater turbine is a 20 kW open blade axial-flow horizontal turbine design, driven by a 3 meter diameter, 3-blade rotor, at a speed of 50 rotations per minute. Anchored by a 5/8 inch diameter steel cable, 1,000 feet deep to a gravity anchor on the ocean floor. Overhead on the surface floats a twin-hull observation and control buoy which is connected to the turbine by: 1) a synthetic rope which is used to deploy and recover the turbine, 2) communications lines used to monitor and control the turbine, and 3) power cables used to transmit power to/from the turbine. Sensors on the turbine include, are but not limited to, an array of underwater cameras connected to video monitors and DVRs, vibration sensors, tachometers, temperature sensors, tilt sensors, and pressure sensors. The underwater housing contains a generator, gearbox, and mechanical brake (to stop the rotor blades from turning) and is filled with bio-degradable oil.

fla-3A main buoy will be permanently moored at the experiment site , and will have an array of navigation and environmental sensors. The buoy will be powered by solar panels, and will have sufficient battery resources to independently supply power for one week to all onboard systems. The navigational instruments include safety and navigation lights, GPS, radar reflectors, and an Automatic Identification System (AIS) that notifies other vessels of the buoy’s name, location, and status. Environmental instruments include a buoy-mounted ADCP, and a bottom-mounted ADCP, that communicates with the buoy via an acoustic modem. The buoy has redundant buoy-to-shore communications that includes a cellular high baud-rate link, and a satellite modem. The main buoy will regularly communicate environmental and position data to shore via both communication means.

Since no turbines have been deployed in the Gulf Stream for more than a few hours, no knowledge exists of the environmental impact. Although some statistical estimates can be made based on the species density, the actual interaction of the turbine and local sea life cannot be assessed without deploying the system.

miami-terrace-reef-locationThe test site is approximately 2 miles west of the mean location of the axis of the Gulf Stream, and lies on the outer end of the Miami Terrace. The water depth is 300 m, with directly adjacent waters exceeding 700 m in depth. FAU has performed a preliminary environmental assessments of the area, that includes bathymetric mapping and 2 years of ocean current measurements from a bottom-mounted ADCP. The main buoy and mooring system will be initially deployed for at least two weeks prior to the turbine and observation/control buoy. It will be checked daily (when weather permits) for drift and sea-keeping.

Once confidence is obtained in the performance of the main buoy and mooring system, the turbine and observation/control buoy will be deployed for short duration testing. The first deployment will be for less than 24 hours to evaluate system performance and immediate environmental impacts. The system will be continually monitored by personnel aboard the observation and control buoy, and aboard a 33 foot research vessel tied to the observation and control buoy. If adverse environmental impacts are observed, such as unacceptable fish or turtle kill, the turbine will be shut down immediately and retrieved.

Subsequent deployments will see the deployment periods increasing each time, with continual monitoring, until confidence can be obtained that the impact is acceptable. During all deployments, all video and sensor readings will be continually recorded.

This area is so new there are questions they just don’t have answers to yet, such as cost and impact on local wild life, marine life, recreation activities and shipping. If the pilot program is successful, it could take 5 to 10 years for the technology to be implemented.

……… the green future unfolds!

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12 Responses to “Florida’s Green Ocean Energy”

  1. nyegik Says:

    wow is nice pict about green…greats coloured
    .-= nyegik´s last blog ..Tanda-Tanda….Mbah Surip? =-.

  2. ALS of Nevada Says:

    The state of Florida is really doing to neat stuff. My hope is that it works and they can see the effects of all the efforts put forth!

  3. Barbara Says:

    I give this “green” thumbs up. It is a fantastic effort the Floridians are making. Hope all goes well! 🙂
    .-= Barbara´s last blog ..Relax With Barbara On Wednesday 47 =-.

  4. Heath Says:

    That is wild. Hope it works out.

  5. Christina Says:

    Very interesting… my sweeties was talking about this the other day!
    .-= Christina´s last blog ..BANG! =-.

  6. Sadie Says:

    That’s really interesting! Using water seems like a no-brainer, so I’m glad to see that we’re finally putting that to use!
    .-= Sadie´s last blog ..I Love Jeans =-.

  7. vein Says:

    I can’t help but wonder about all the wildlife that follows the gulf stream, turtles, seals etc. I think schemes like tidal difference turbines or wave energy harvesters have less potential to affect wildlife.
    .-= vein´s last blog ..For the record: Baby Glutton =-.

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