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Title: Assessment of Energy Production Potential from Ocean Currents along the United States Coastline

Increasing energy consumption and depleting reserves of fossil fuels have resulted in growing interest in alternative renewable energy from the ocean. Ocean currents are an alternative source of clean energy due to their inherent reliability, persistence and sustainability. General ocean circulations exist in the form of large rotating ocean gyres, and feature extremely rapid current flow in the western boundaries due to the Coriolis Effect. The Gulf Stream system is formed by the western boundary current of the North Atlantic Ocean that flows along the east coastline of the United States, and therefore is of particular interest as a potential energy resource for the United States. This project created a national database of ocean current energy resources to help advance awareness and market penetration in ocean current energy resource assessment. The database, consisting of joint velocity magnitude and direction probability histograms, was created from data created by seven years of numerical model simulations. The accuracy of the database was evaluated by ORNL?s independent validation effort documented in a separate report. Estimates of the total theoretical power resource contained in the ocean currents were calculated utilizing two separate approaches. Firstly, the theoretical energy balance in the Gulf Stream system was examinedmore » using the two-dimensional ocean circulation equations based on the assumptions of the Stommel model for subtropical gyres with the quasi-geostrophic balance between pressure gradient, Coriolis force, wind stress and friction driving the circulation. Parameters including water depth, natural dissipation rate and wind stress are calibrated in the model so that the model can reproduce reasonable flow properties including volume flux and energy flux. To represent flow dissipation due to turbines additional turbine drag coefficient is formulated and included in the model. Secondly, to determine the reasonableness of the total power estimates from the Stommel model and to help determine the size and capacity of arrays necessary to extract the maximum theoretical power, further estimates of the available power based on the distribution of the kinetic power density in the undisturbed flow was completed. This used estimates of the device spacing and scaling to sum up the total power that the devices would produce. The analysis has shown that considering extraction over a region comprised of the Florida Current portion of the Gulf Stream system, the average power dissipated ranges between 4-6 GW with a mean around 5.1 GW. This corresponds to an average of approximately 45 TWh/yr. However, if the extraction area comprises the entire portion of the Gulf Stream within 200 miles of the US coastline from Florida to North Carolina, the average power dissipated becomes 18.6 GW or 163 TWh/yr. A web based GIS interface,, was developed for dissemination of the data. The website includes GIS layers of monthly and yearly mean ocean current velocity and power density for ocean currents along the entire coastline of the United States, as well as joint and marginal probability histograms for current velocities at a horizontal resolution of 4-7 km with 10-25 bins over depth. Various tools are provided for viewing, identifying, filtering and downloading the data.« less
Publication Date:
OSTI Identifier:
Report Number(s):
DOE Contract Number:
Resource Type:
Technical Report
Research Org:
Georgia Tech Research Corporation
Sponsoring Org:
USDOE EE Office of Wind and Hydropower Technologies (EE-2B); USDOE Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE)
Country of Publication:
United States
16 TIDAL AND WAVE POWER; Ocean current energy, Gulf Stream, Florida current