FORT LAUDERDALE, FLORIDA -- For a team at Florida Atlantic University, 2,048-acres of sandy bottom in the Atlantic Ocean is the perfect location for a first-of-its-kind experiment testing water-powered turbines that could contribute to the future of energy.
Approximately thirteen miles off the coast of Fort Lauderdale, there’s a steady flow of ocean current called the Gulf Stream.
The researchers’ plan: lower a turbine into that Gulf Stream and position the equipment so the flow of water from south to north spins a propeller that in turn produces electricity.
Think of it as a sort of windmill 100 to 160 feet below the surface.
“The ocean current is consistent. It flows 365 days a year. There is some variability which is what we’re hoping to better understand," says Sue Skemp, director of the Southeast National Marine Renewable Energy Center at FAU.
Unlike windmills or solar panels that have lulls when the wind stops blowing or at night when there is no sun, Skemp believes that if the equipment operates in the saltwater as it does in computer models, someday a portion of our energy needs could come from the always flowing gulf stream.
An unknown remains: Might the spinning blades of an underwater turbine end up killing fish, and turtles that also use the Gulf Stream as their underwater highway?
“What happens when we put a device in the water? How does it interact with turtles? That information is sparse,” says Skemp.
The 10-foot-long blades spin approximately one revolution every second. Scientists say they will monitor what’s happening via underwater cameras. At first, Skemp says the turbine will run only during daylight hours.
If a slow-moving turtle is headed into the carbon-fiber blades, engineers say they have an “emergency off” button to prevent those endangered species from being chopped up. But Skemp says there is no way of knowing until they launch whether turtles and other marine life may simply swim around the danger.
The turbines are scheduled to be positioned in the Gulf Stream early this winter.
The U.S. Department of the Interior is responsible for leasing underwater plots of land. What was once the domain of oil and mineral companies is slowly finding a different group of “renters.”
Energy companies near Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Delaware and Virginia have already won leases for sometimes controversial off-shore windmills. Those plots of land will be used to anchor the above water windmills.
Tracey Moriarty, at the US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, says this underwater turbine is “the first project that we have in federal waters for hydro-kinetic technology testing. It’s too early to know where this goes. Right now it’s about getting the data.”
Engineers have already conducted “tow tests” where an underwater turbine is pulled behind a boat. This will be the first time a turbine is lowered into a stationary position to spin on the ocean currents.
First published June 3 2014, 3:04 PM
Kerry Sanders has been NBC's Miami-based correspondent since 1996, covering news mainly in the South and throughout Latin America. Sanders contributes regularly to "Nightly News with Brian Williams," "TODAY," MSNBC and occasionally to "Dateline NBC."
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Sanders covers breaking news and feature stories. He has more than 30 years experience providing in-the-field-reports during hurricanes. He was a member of the NBC Nightly News reporting team that was awarded a Peabody and the RTNDA Edward R. Murrow Award for coverage of Hurricane Katrina.
Sanders was also one of NBC's embedded reporters during the Iraq war, traveling with the U.S. Marine Corps. He reported on various battles, including the harsh 11-day conflict in Nasariyah. In addition, Sanders has extensively covered the war on terror in Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan.
Sanders was a member of the NBC News team dispatched to cover the Boston Bombing. His reports from the field included some compelling and gripping moments that garnered recognition - including being the first NBC News reporter at the MIT shooting and the first to report on the developments in Watertown Mass. as police chased the bombing suspects.
Sanders has received numerous national awards.
He was awarded a 2011 Society of Professional Journalists Bronze Medal for his coverage of the 33 Chileans trapped deep in a mine. Sanders was awarded a National Headliner Award
and the National Press Club Online Journalism award
for his reporting from Haiti's devastating 2010 earthquake.
In addition, he was awarded an Emmy as a member of the NBC News team reporting on the 2008 national election. He was also awarded an Emmy in 2005 as a member of the NBC News team reporting on Hurricane Katrina. In 2000, he won the Overseas Press Club Award for his coverage in Kosovo. In 1994 Sanders was honored with the prestigious Columbia-duPont, recognized for his reporting from Haiti as a military coup rocked the country. Sanders shared another Columbia-duPont award for his compelling coverage of the widespread devastation of Hurricane Andrew in 1992. Sanders was also a co-recipient of the RTNDA Edward R. Murrow Award, and the George Foster Peabody Award for coverage of Hurricane Andrew and the aftermath of the storm.
Among other honors, Sanders also received the National Headliner Award (the Persian Gulf War, reporting from Saudi Arabia and Kuwait), the Wolfson Media Award (Haiti: A Country in Crisis) and two regional Emmy awards.
Before he was hired by the network in May 1996, Sanders spent five years at WTVJ-TV, the NBC-owned station in Miami that has often served as a launching board for reporters destined for national careers. While at WTVJ, Sanders was a regular contributor for "Today." His reports included coverage of the Alas Airline crash in the Dominican Republic, the American Airlines Crash in Columbia and the ATF siege of the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas.
Sanders built the early portion of his television experience around learning to cover fast-breaking news in Florida, the nation's fourth most populous state. Before settling in Miami, he worked for five and a half years at WTVT-TV, the CBS affiliate in Tampa. In the early 1980s, Kerry worked at the ABC affiliate in Jacksonville, Fla. and the CBS affiliate in Ft. Myers, Fla. Long interested in foreign affairs and broadcasting, Sanders began his career as a 20-year-old in Lima, Peru. He was a newsreader for Radio del Pacifico.
Sanders grew up along the East Coast, spending most of his early years in Sudbury, Mass. He attended three high schools in Massachusetts, Peru and Orlando. Sanders graduated cum laude from the University of South Florida with a liberal arts degree (emphasis in journalism) in 1982.
While attending high school in Lima, Sanders learned Spanish.
Sanders has touch every continent while on assignment for NBC News, including Antarctica. He says he's often asked what is the most compelling place he's been, from the North Pole to the bottom of the world? His answer: "Weightlessness. Going up in the vomit comet and experiencing zero-gravity as astronauts do is by far the most amazing personal experience." "And no" he says "I didn't get sick."