FAU moves forward with plan to draw energy from ocean current

Could South Florida become the Saudi Arabia of ocean energy? Just as the desert nation rests on vast pools of oil, South Florida sits next to the Gulf Stream, a wind-driven current of immense power.

Florida Atlantic University on Tuesday moved a step forward with a plan to place experimental turbines in the ocean off Fort Lauderdale to test the feasibility of generating electricity from the Gulf Stream, also known as the Florida Current. The university’s Southeast National Marine Renewable Energy Center is seeking permission from the federal government to deploy turbines with rotors about three meters in diameter nine to 15 miles off shore.

The U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement announced Tuesday that it is considering leasing three sections of the outer continental shelf off Fort Lauderdale for the project. Although there are clearly serious technical and economic hurdles to generating electricity from the Gulf Stream and sending it via cables to the mainland, the potential is vast.

“Because seawater is about 850 times more dense than air, a two meter per second oceanic flow, typical of the fastest parts of the Florida Current, has the power density of a gale-force wind,” wrote the FAU center’s scientific director, Howard Hanson, in a recent article in the journal Sea Technology.

The bureau will now prepare an environmental assessment that will look at the potential impact on sea turtles, marine mammals, fish, the ocean floor and current human activities.

The agency is accepting comments from the public on the proposal until June 23. For more information, go to the notice published Tuesday in the Federal Register, at http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2011-05-24/html/2011-12724.htm.


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