by Keith D. Foote
Solar panels and wind turbines are often thought of when asked about alternative energy sources. This is because wind and solar are the most obvious forms of renewable energy, so as a result they are the most common. Although most people are aware the ocean is constantly moving, few are actually aware of the enormous potential for electricity this movement creates. One of the first goals of Crowd Energy is to educate people about the incredible potential of reliable and renewable energy in oceans currents. The constant flow of currents moves the turbines, and provides more reliable consistent energy, more than we could ever use. Ocean currents provide a clean, non-polluting, renewable energy capable of ending our dependence on fossil fuels and nuclear energy.
The benefits of an ocean energy turbine system, as compared to wind turbines and sun panels are worth exploring. Ocean energy turbines are normally hidden beneath the surface of the water. They don?t make noise, obstruct light, or cause vibrations, which are problems often associated with wind turbines. Sitting on the sea floor, ocean energy turbines are well protected from dangers like hurricanes, and even the electromagnetic pulse of solar flares.
Crowd Energy focused on four important factors in developing their ocean energy turbines. The first factor of importance is the near limitless supply of energy available. Ocean current will continue to flow for at least the next 1000 years. The second factor is, there is no down time. Ocean currents are consistent, providing a steady flow of energy with no peaks or valleys. Next, is what is called high energy density, which is energy that can be ?reliably? collected at one location, with a realistic commitment to the support technology and equipment. Survivability is the fourth factor of concern for Crowd Energy. The energy supply and collection will not be disrupted by storms or most natural disasters. Ocean current energy seems to be the ultimate form of alternative, non-polluting energy and will hopefully replace fossil fuels and nuclear energy.
Their turbine is composed of three sets of blades, which ?close? when they are moving in the same direction as the flow of water. As the blades close, they create an barrier the water has to push against. While the water is pushing against the closed blades, it causes the main shaft and generator to rotate, in turn generating electricity. When the blades move in the opposite direction of the flow of water, they open. When the blades open they create a minimal drag in the oncoming flow of water. This design creates a large surface area and pressure on the power stroke side of the turbine, and a very low surface area and pressure on the returning side. This particular design has proven to be remarkably efficient for collecting ocean currents.
In developing this ocean energy turbine system, a marine animal behaviorist, oceanographer, and marine biologists were invited to be a part of the team. Crowd Energy takes the marine environment very seriously and wanted to ensure everything is designed to work in harmony within the ocean environment. They have, and are, making a significant effort to be sure the project will not have a negative impact on the marine environment. This is accomplished by using eco-friendly materials and coatings on the turbine, and by selecting locations away from reef habitats.
Crowd Energy?s technology has a huge amount of potential,? says Jon Wank, the chief operating officer of Solutions Project, a non-profit group, co-founded by actor Mark Ruffalo, to accelerate the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy.
The United States DOE has spent more than $100 million in researching what has become known as ?marine hydrokinetic technologies,? which includes energy from ocean currents, waves, and the tides. ?Wave energy? uses the churning of the waves along the surface to spin a turbine. A number of commercial wave farms are now connected to the grid in Europe. Tidal energy is similar to ocean current energy, but it is focused on the shift between low tide to high tide, and is not a steady, consistent flow of energy. Tidal technology has been tested in Maine and in Europe. While these two forms of hydrokinetic energy are already being used, they are limited to the few places in the US with waves strong enough, and a tidal range large enough, to produce substantial power.
A study from the Georgia Institute of Technology on the energy production potential of ocean currents found there are 5.1 gigawatts of untapped power off the coast of Florida. This is equivalent to powering more than 3,800,000 homes for a year, or, more than half the households in the Sunshine State. The Gulf Stream, as a whole, could provide up to four times that amount of energy.
With more than 50 percent of the population living within 50 miles of coastlines, there is vast potential to provide clean, renewable electricity to communities and cities across the United States using marine technology, according to the U. S. Department of Energy.