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Wave of Hope for FAU's Ocean Turbines

FAU underwater turbine
FAU’s ocean energy research center envisions creating energy via underwater turbines. [Image courtesy FAU]

The drawings of work at Florida Atlantic University’s ocean energy research center are tailor-made for the pages of Popular Science — brightly painted underwater turbines spun by the ever-flowing Gulf Stream, generating power for Florida.

For at least the moment, the pretty pictures are wrapped up in red tape, however. FAU has a monitoring system ready to deploy — the first step toward an actual turbine and toward creating an ocean test bed where private companies can test turbines — but is awaiting approval from the agencies writing the rules in the new field.

Florida has spent $13.75 million on the center for ocean energy technology at FAU, seeing Florida as a natural to lead in generating energy from the sea. Since 2005, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has issued 137 preliminary permits for entities hoping for power from sources as diverse as the Ohio River and Oregon waves, according to Celeste Miller, a commission spokeswoman. None has been issued for Florida, though two of 68 pending applications are for Florida — from a Maine company, Ocean Renewable Power, that wants to test a turbine at the envisioned FAU test seabed. The permits give the holders the right to study a site for three years.

To move the Center for Ocean Energy Technology along, FAU in March brought in as executive director alum Susan Skemp. The 31-year veteran of Pratt & Whitney, who’s a past president of the mechanical engineering society ASME International and the federal ASME Fellow in former President Bush’s Office of Science and Technology Policy, says the center is working with other universities and private-sector players such as FPL and Lockheed Martin, hoping for approval to put the monitoring system in the water soon.

Skemp says it’s essential to know exactly where to place a turbine and to understand its affect on the environment. The turbine can then be deployed — perhaps before July. Says Skemp, “We’re about testing and evaluating and proving out the concept and feasibility.”