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There’s Power Beneath The Waves

Deep ocean currents are powerful and constant movements of ocean water more than 400m below the surface. They occur due to density driven forces acting upon them including gravity.

A new type of ocean power generator is being considered that could harvest this steady, reliable energy of the deep ocean currents, and a group of companies is working together to place the first 1 megawatt system on the seafloor.

Companies are currently raising funds for the demonstration project, and they are looking into R&D funding from the U.S. Navy and the Department of Energy.

The grid connections and system software used for these power generators are being designed by Eaton Corporation, a power management company with experience in linking renewable energy sources like wind and solar farms to the grid.

The 1MW turbine will come from Triton, a Florida-based company that primarily builds deep-ocean subs. Eaton representatives say the 1-MW demonstration project could easily be built up to a utility-scale current farm by adding more turbines.

Deep ocean currents are mostly generated by differences in the ocean’s salinity and temperature around the continents. They run at a constant speed of about 3.5 to 5 knots, according to Eaton’s Department of Defence account development manager Jim Spaulding. “You’d be amazed at how steady-state these deep ocean currents are,” said Spaulding. “That’s the appeal: it is very, very consistent.”

The team has not picked out a spot yet for this demo project, but Spaulding mentioned the waters off the coast of Florida would be a fantastic spot. Strong currents can be found within a couple of miles from shore and at relatively easy-to-reach depths of 20 to 170 meters, he added. Eventually, Eaton plans to build systems at depths of 300 to 500 meters. While the ocean energy industry is in its infancy, there’s been a lot of excitement in recent years over new turbine technologies and demonstration projects.

In the U.S, the first “tidal” station began providing power to the Maine grid last September, and a wave power project is intended for Oregon’s waters. Hopefully this activity will encourage companies outside the US to implement the technology and utilise the unexplored power that lies beneath the waves.

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