The U.S. Department of Energy has awarded the Snohomish County Public Utility District a $10 million grant to install and test two tidal energy turbines on the floor of the ocean not far from Seattle, Washington. The hope is that the ocean turbines will act much like wind turbines and eventually generate upwards of 1 MW of electricity, enough to power 700 American homes.
But along with testing the undersea turbines for their energy output, the Energy Department and County Utility District are also tasked with testing how the turbines will affect marine life to see if the technology can be implemented on a broader scale.
Scientists with the Energy Department’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory are exposing fish to recorded turbine sounds and monitoring their behavior. They are also creating an alert system so the turbines will shut down if a killer whale is detected too closely to the machine.
The turbines could be installed in Admiralty Inlet, in the Puget Sound, as early as 2013. Some estimate the power of the ocean tides as having the potential to produce power for as much as 5 percent of US households – 9 GW of potential renewable energy.