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Gallery: Harnessing the Energy of Ocean Currents

Underwater turbine farm

ocean energy turbine farm

(Image credit: Crowd Energy)

A group of scientists and engineers wants to build giant, underwater turbines, which they think could provide a source of limitless clean energy. The Crowd Energy project grew out of a desire to find a source of limitless clean energy, as an alternative to fossil fuels and nuclear energy.

Ocean energy turbine

ocean energy turbine

(Image credit: Crowd Energy)

Crowd Energy's turbine consists of three sets of blades that resemble window shutters. These structures are designed to close when water flows in the same direction the blades are moving and open when water moves in the opposite direction. The force of the water turns the blades and makes the shaft rotate, and a generator converts this rotational energy into electricity.

Deep sea energy

ocean energy turbine installation

(Image credit: Crowd Energy)

While energy generated from these turbines may not be able to completely replace fossil fuels, as the group claims, the devices could still be an important source of clean energy, experts say.

Installing the turbines

ocean energy turbine

(Image credit: Crowd Energy)

Todd Janca, the founder of Crowd Energy, plans to build a production-scale turbine with a 100-foot (30 meters) wingspan (and ultimately, much larger ones). Janca estimates that one of these turbines could generate 13.5 megawatts of electricity — enough to power 13,500 high-use American homes, he said.

Giant generators

ocean energy turbine

(Image credit: Crowd Energy)

The main concern is how the turbines could affect nearby marine ecosystems. The turbines would be located at depths of 300 feet (91 meters) or more, in areas of fast-moving water where not many things live.At any rate, the sensory systems of these animals are good enough to detect and avoid the turbines. In addition, the blades themselves would be slow moving and have gaps large enough for most creatures to swim through. Still, it's impossible to know exactly what the impact of these systems will be without testing them at sea.

Ocean test

ocean energy turbine

(Image credit: Crowd Energy)

Janca and his colleagues plan to test their turbine prototype at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton. Next, they plan to build a larger prototype to evaluate at the university's open ocean testing site, located off the coast of South Florida. Their goal is to have four full-scale turbines working and generating power by 2015, according to the group's website.