A Wave of Popularity for Tidal Turbines

The ocean is about to become a lot more important to Gulf Coast residents.


The U.S. media has spilled a lot of ink on water-related topics in the past few months, and for good reason–the Gulf disaster has served as a harsh reminder of the importance of the ocean in our daily lives. But the ocean is about to become a lot more important to Gulf Coast residents.

A team of engineers from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University want to capture the immense energy of the Gulf Stream with help from a series of turbines that could potentially provide 21,000 times more energy than Niagara Falls, or a third of Florida’s total electricity needs. It won’t be easy to set up the turbines, which will autonomously travel through ocean currents like schools of fish (either tethered to the sea floor or hitched to a moveable platform). Researchers involved in the project hope that sensors attached to the turbines will allow them to communicate with each other, according to the BBC. If all goes well, a prototype turbine “swarm” will be ready in 18 months.

The Gulf Stream turbine swarm isn’t the only tidal turbine project to pop up recently. Earlier this month, Burntisland Fabrications announced a $6.25 million contract to build a tidal energy turbine off Scotland’s west coast. The 10 1 MW turbines, set to be installed in the Sound of Islay by 2013, will provide power to both islanders and the eight whiskey distilleries and malteries located on the island.

Scotland will get another turbine boost in the coming weeks with the test of the AK-1000, a 130-ton behemoth that is purportedly the world’s largest tidal turbine. The $7.5 million turbine, which took a decade to construct, will initially generate1 MW of power, or enough electricity to juice up 1,000 homes. By 2020, the turbine is expected to produce 700 MW.

Ariel Schwartz can be reached on Twitter or by email.

About the author

Ariel Schwartz is a Senior Editor at Co.Exist. She has contributed to SF Weekly, Popular Science, Inhabitat, Greenbiz, NBC Bay Area, GOOD Magazine and more.