A new type of ocean power generator could harvest the steady, reliable energy of deep ocean currents, and a group of companies are working together to place the first 1-megawatt system on the seafloor. The companies are currently raising money for the demonstration project and say they're investigating R&D funding from the U.S. Navy and the Department of Energy.
The grid connections and system software 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 1-MW 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 generated by differences in the ocean's salinity and temperature around the continents. They run at a constant speed of about 3 to 5 knots (5.5 to 9 kilometers per hour), according to Eaton's Department of Defense account development manager Jim Spaulding. "You’d be amazed at how steady-state these deep ocean currents are," Spaulding told me. "That’s the appeal: It’s very, very consistent."
The consortium hasn't picked out a spot yet for its demo, but Spaulding mentioned the waters off the coast of Florida as one attractive option. There, strong currents can be found within a couple of miles from shore and at relatively easy-to-reach depths of 30 to 150 meters, he said. Eventually, Eaton plans to build systems at depths of 300 to 500 meters.