Marine Power Races To Catch Up With Wind

Researchers at the Sandia National Laboratories see marine-based power generation – which they call MHK, for marine hydrokinetics – about where wind power was a couple of generations ago. But that’s not all bad. They say the knowledge they gained in developing wind as a renewable-energy resource should help them move faster on marine power.

“The current MHK industry looks a lot like wind did 30 years ago,” said Daniel Laird, manager of the Water Power Technologies Department at Sandia. “We want to take what we’ve learned to compress the MHK development from the 30 years it took wind energy down to 10 years.”

marine power research, Sandia National Laboratory

image via Sandia National Laboratories

To make that happen, the Sandia scientists have been analyzing the computer-simulated performance of a tidal turbine, a river turbine and a wave-point absorber (a device that bobs on the surface to capture energy from waves). Eventually, the researchers will analyze perhaps 10 devices, with the aim of helping companies and the U.S. Department of Energy figure out where to put their dollars in the marine-power sector.

The Sandia team is getting some real-world assistance in its work through a partnership with New York City-based Verdant Power, which the lab said operated the world’s first grid-connected array of multiple tidal turbines in the East River (that’s a turbine being installed, below, in 2006) and has plans – as we’ve reported – to run the first commercial tidal power plant in the country.

river tidal power, Verdant Power, East River

image via Verdant Power

Sandia worked with Verdant on a blade “that is stronger and thicker, and more resistant to corrosion and cavitation” – the creation of tiny water vapor bubbles at low pressure that can collapse and cause surface damage.

Verdant is building its Fifth Generation Free Flow System right now, with plans to test it before the end of the year. If it works as expected, “Verdant plans in 2012 to begin installing, in phases, 30 turbines in the East River, which at peak production could supply enough energy for the equivalent of about 700 homes,” Sandia said.

Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.


  • Reply October 3, 2011

    Finn Kaare

    This is wath we like. We have developed the worlds most effcienty cross flow hydro kinitec turbine. Our last tested tubine, 2 m diameter and 1,75 m longe foils, did have 50% effciency (Beths teoreme is max 59%) calculated by the total energy passing the swept area.u00a0 We do this by having the only working active pitc controled foils. We have been woring in this area for 14 years and it has been a very long learing curve and uphill struggle. http://www.waterwingpower.comu00a0u00a0 http://www.wpi.nonFinn Kaare nCEO

  • Reply April 19, 2012


    Cavatation? That suggests the blades move quickly .. quick enough to harm large marine mammals, and fish? But I guess with some thinking these things can also be made safe for the animals of the sea..

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