Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Going With The Flow

What's 16 feet wide, underwater, and a new potential source for alternative energy? Hint: It enjoys rainy days and likes to "go with the flow." Give up? It's a "tidal turbine." We've all heard of wind turbines, of course, and most of us have probably driven by the giant wind farms that have sprung up in breezy spots across America (if you live in America, that is.) Well, now there's a sort of "current farm" going into New York City's East River, in a channel where ships don't pass, but lots of water still does. According to Erik Sofge, at Popular Mechanics, "six 35-kilowatt turbines scheduled to be installed by mid-March" will be providing power to a supermarket and a parking garage, and there are plans to add hundreds more turbines, if things go well.

One of the questions this test is designed to answer is whether problems specific to the underwater location, such as barnacles, will be an impediment, or whether the giant rotors will just keep spinning. Water is a force to be reconned with, so I'm betting that current and the grinding of the turbines keep the barnacles at bay (so to speak.) With all that spinning going on, however, there's also concern for river life. This test should also determine whether the river's residents can go with the flow. The designers have tried to make the power producers fish friendly. Just as wind-turbine designs have to take into account the safety of our feathered friends, these underwater ones have beeen built with Nemo in mind. The rotors turn slowly, and have blunt edges, and hopefully that will prevent them from committing fishicide.

If all goes according to plan, and the "current farm" is expanded to full capacity, the resulting power from this one East River location could equal 10 megawatts, which Sofge says could run 4,000 homes. When that kind of potential gets extrapolated across the country, "...our rivers and estuaries could provide up to 130,000 gigawatt-hours per year — about half the yearly production of the country's dams." Sounds pretty exciting, eh? One might almost say electrifying.

Hat tip: Instapundit