The UNC Coastal Studies Institute (UNC-CSI) is leading a renewable ocean energy research program that is focused on the potential of waves, tides and currents to generate energy with the intent of facilitating the creation of new economies for North Carolina.
UNC-CSI is leading the program in collaboration with the Colleges of Engineering at NC State (NCSU), UNC Charlotte (UNCC), and North Carolina A&T Universities (NC A&T). A technical advisory team, made up of national and international specialists in renewable ocean energy has been assembled to assist in guiding the North Carolina program.
Research efforts for the first year of the program are focused on modeling the energy potential of North Carolina’s ocean resources (wave and tides), investigating the potential of magnetic gear technology for improved efficiency of any renewable energy generation equipment (including wind turbines and wave / tidal/ current conversion devices), testing methods for storing energy offshore using compressed air in deep water, assessing the Gulf Stream for the generation of base load power, and initiating the process to provide a base condition environmental evaluation to protect resources. In preparing for the possibility of potential energy development offshore, the effort will include public education programming.
The wave energy assessment is being led by Prof. Margery Overton of the Civil, Construction and Environmental Engineering Department at North Carolina State University, Dr. Jeff Hansen of the US Army Corps of Engineers at the Field Research Facility in Duck and Kevin Gamiel of the Renaissance Computing Institute. A detailed study of the potential tidal power of North Carolina’s major inlets during both ebb and flood tidal exchange is currently being conducted by Prof. Jie Yu at NC State University.
The magnetic gearing team, led by Dr. Jonathan Bird of UNCC, is designing and experimentally testing a contact-free magnetic gear system with the ability to increase the low speed rotational motion created from energy conversion devices into high-speed motion suitable for traditional power generation. Because of the variability of power from wind and wave renewable sources, establishing energy storage technology is of fundamental importance. A research team led by Prof. Moe Gabr of NCSU includes Prof. Richard Seymour from Scripps Institute of Oceanography, and the Departments of Civil, Mechanical, Electrical Engineering and the FREEDM Center at North Carolina State University. Using compressed air to store energy in the deep ocean waters could reduce energy transmission costs and offset the disadvantages associated with the variability in renewable energy generation by providing energy on demand. Technologies to improve operating efficiencies and store energy in deep-water offshore using compressed air, whether the energy is generated from wind, tides, waves or the Gulf Stream, will facilitate both discrete as well as grid-based applications for renewable energy generation.
A partnership with the Southeast National Marine Renewable Energy Center (SNMREC) at Florida Atlantic University will assess the energy of the Gulf Stream and opportunities to convert it to electricity. This massive body of water flows northward along the eastern seaboard at speeds up to 5 mph. The Gulf Stream, while potentially challenging to utilize, may have the potential to deliver substantial base load power.
A strong partnership between Jennette's Pier and the UNC Coastal Studies Institute provides scientists studying ocean energy the infrastructure needed to test ocean energy devices in an ocean environment. In the Fall of 2011 a device designed by Resolute Marine Inc, was tested off of the pier. The SurgeWEC device had been tested in wave tanks, but never in an ocean environment. It is designed to convert wave energy in near shore environments to usable electrical power. The SurgeWEC was craned to the end of the 800 foot pier and lowered over the side. It was anchored in place, and a ocean observing equipment was deployed to record the ocean conditions. A research hut at the end of Jennette's Pier provides climate controlled space for data collection, and a hatch allows devices to be hardwired to the pier.
North Carolina’s long shoreline, abundant coastal resources, strong engineering programs, well positioned academic marine research centers, and access to the ocean make it uniquely qualified to conduct the research, investigate and develop technologies, and become an important contributor to the ocean renewable industry. The UNC Coastal Studies Institute and its partners are committed to pursuing economic development potential for the State of North Carolina via renewable ocean energy resources. The first step in the journey to meet North Carolina’s long-term energy demands and to diversify its economy is to conduct research and assess the technologies needed to harness these sources of energy, and it has begun.