FAU forced to switch start of ocean energy plan
Sunday, November 18, 2007
DANIA BEACH � Florida Atlantic University scientists had hoped to begin
collecting energy from the Gulf Stream this fall, but permitting issues,
including who regulates wave farms, have pushed
the harvest back until 2008.
The university's Center of Excellence in Ocean Energy Technology won a
$5 million grant from the state last year to test whether a specialized
turbine, plunked into the north-flowing Gulf Steam, can generate
electricity for homes and businesses.
The Gulf Stream, a warm water flow that skims the coast of South
Florida, is the planet's largest, most energy-dense ocean current.
Scientists say it's also one of the most under-used elements when it
comes to potential energy production.
And a recent surge in the popularity of mining the Gulf Stream is one
of the reasons for the permitting issues.
"This is such a new process, people are unsure of some things," said
Camille Coley, research vice president at FAU. "This is foreign. We're
walking through fields where people have not tread before."
The U.S. Minerals Management Service traditionally oversees permits for
oil and gas drilling in federal waters.
Carolyn Elefant of the Washington D.C.-based Ocean Renewable Energy
Coalition said it's still being decided whether the Federal Energy
Regulatory Commission or other federal agency has jurisdiction beyond
state waters, which extend out about 3 miles.
FAU has been working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Florida
Fish and Wildlife and the U.S. Coast Guard.
"We've been kind of hammered by the regulatory process, but it's
encouraging that steps are being taken to facilitate this new industry,"
said Rick Driscoll, an associate professor in FAU's Department of
Engineering and director of the ocean energy technology center. The center
is based at FAU's Dania Beach campus.
Driscoll's not too upset about the project's postponement.
The extra time - Coley estimates the center will be able to drop the
first experimental turbine into the Gulf Stream by the end of February -
allows the center to take its time with finishing touches.
"Because of the delays, we've taken a lot more careful approach to
engineering, with more focus on risk reduction," Driscoll said. "When we
deploy it, we want to make sure it works."
It also gets them past the heavier seas of December and January,
allowing initial testing to begin in calmer months.
Although harnessing ocean energy has been considered for more than a
century, no system has been installed in the Gulf Stream for more than a
The initial three-blade test turbine will be about 10 feet in diameter.
It's connected to a main mooring buoy anchored to the ocean floor and a
twin-hull observation and control buoy.
It will be placed in the Gulf Stream about 15 miles off the shore of
Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, where the blades will be driven by the 6 mph flow
of the Gulf Stream.
The goal is to have 3,000 turbines working in underwater unison to
power up to 50 percent of Florida.
Driscoll's team also is working on another proposal to earn state grant
money for a project that will pull cold water from the bottom of the ocean
for cooling homes and