FAU Signs Lease to Install World's First Ocean Current Energy Test Site
Researchers at Florida Atlantic University's Southeast National Marine Renewable Energy Center (SNMREC) will soon install the world's first offshore test berth for small-scale ocean current turbines thanks to a recently signed five-year lease agreement between FAU and the U.S. Department of the Interior's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM).
"This project is a potentially paradigm-shifting development in the global quest for clean energy sources and puts South Florida at the forefront of research in this critical effort," FAU President John Kelly said. "It also demonstrates the multidisciplinary nature of marine renewable's research, a successful public, private partnership and FAU's international leadership in the field."
The lease allows installation of multiple anchored floating test berths on the U.S. outer continental shelf 13 miles (22 km) offshore from Broward County, Fla. These test berths, each consisting of a buoy anchored to the sea floor, allow ocean current turbine prototypes (up to 100kW generation capacity) to be deployed from vessels moored in the Gulf Stream for a few weeks at a time.
"This is the first time a lease has been issued to test ocean current energy equipment in Federal waters," said Walter Cruickshank, BOEM acting director. "The Gulf Stream contains a tremendous amount of energy, and this technology offers exciting potential to expand the nation's renewable energy portfolio."
Industry partners will have the opportunity to evaluate the efficacy of their turbine designs while mooring buoys collect measurements of ocean conditions nearby.
"Our team's hard work and dedication to our vision is symbolized by the signed lease," said Susan Skemp, director of SNMREC in FAU's College of Engineering and Computer Science. "We are now looking forward to working closely with our industry partners as we begin to collectively evaluate equipment to generate power from ocean currents and continue to inform future regulatory processes."
FAU's SNMREC has been working since 2007 to establish the world's first offshore ocean current turbine test site. Researchers recently performed a successful final sea trial of the first test berth buoy as well as preliminary tow tests of a small-scale research turbine in late 2013 — key steps before the installation of the test site. Before receiving a lease offer from BOEM, an environmental assessment of the project concluded that "no significant impact" was expected. Before installation of the first test berth planned this year, a project plan will be reviewed by BOEM. This work is supported by close to $20 million in funding from the U.S. Department of Energy, the state of Florida and private companies.
On December 11, 2013, Southeast National Marine Renewable Energy Center researchers performed the first ever tow test of a small scale research turbine designed and built at FAU (see video below). Although this test did not include a generator to convert the rotor's motion into electrical energy, very valuable hydrodynamic motion data was collected. Electrical systems are separately being prepared in a laboratory setting for future integration and towed turbine experiments. This turbine, which can generate up to 20kW with its 3 meter diameter rotor in a 2.5 m/s flow, is intended as a research platform to investigate and optimize components for commercial ocean current turbines.