Developer OceanBased’s deal with Florida Atlantic University reignites ten-year-old plan with 100MW array in frame for 2025

by Darius Snieckus in London, Recharge Technology

28 May 2019 Updated 28 May 2019

Newco renewables developer OceanBased Perpetual Energy (OPE) has signed a memorandum of understanding with Florida Atlantic University and the Georgia Institute of Technology that will re-launch a long-gestating project angling to harness the vast energy potential of the Gulf Stream in a stretch of deep water just off the Sunshine State.

The development, which would use in-stream-style tidal turbines moored in waters of some 1,100 feet (335 meters) deep to produce “24/7 energy throughout the year”, is slated to kick-off as early as next year with installation of a $10m pilot at a site 5-20 miles (8-32km) offshore. OPE has the ambition of building a 100MW utility-scale plant “within as few as five years” followed eventually by “gigawatt-scale” deployment that it hopes would become the world’s largest marine energy array.

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“Wind has longtime been the star of the show when it comes to renewables, but we believe there is a vast untapped resource in our oceans to be the next great frontier of renewable energy,” said OceanBased’s CEO Nasser M N Alshemaimry, who has said he has access to finance needed for the first pilot stage.

“The Gulf Stream’s unique characteristics among renewables as a constant energy resource is what prompted us to choose this location – it’s 24/7/365 that you can count on for energy, that’s what attracted us,” he said, speaking exclusively with Recharge.

“No one can deny this is a massive undertaking. But we have the know-how, the finance, the connections and, more importantly, we have the determination to make this a success.

”The turbines at the site, operated as part of FAU’s Southeast National Marine Renewable Energy Center (SNMREC), would be anchored some 400 feet below the surface of the ocean so that the rotors would be nose-in to the three meter per second “sweet spot” of the Gulf Stream.

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Gabriel Alsenas, director of SNMREC, one of three centers earmarked by the US Department of Energy (DoE) to liaise with the private sector in developing the country’s marine renewable energy resource, states: “This agreement helps to formalize our mutual interest in accelerating marine renewable commercial projects in the US.”

“We especially like to see this type of commitment from private sector project developers as a sign that our efforts to stimulate new markets with our research efforts is paying off.”

Data collection for an in-stream energy project at the site off Florida has been underway for over eight years. The DoE estimates that the Gulf Stream could flow a total of up to 45TWh/year of electricity to the state, equal “to 2-3 of Florida’s nuclear generation plants”, notes Alshemaimry.

“Unlocking the opportunities of our oceans is incredibly exciting” “We must invent and innovate ways to avert the great challenges, obstacles and dangers associated with global climate change,” he continues. “[In] launching one of the most ambitious renewable energy projects to date [we are making] a statement that we cannot pretend, ignore, conserve or drill our way out of the global energy crisis. Unlocking the opportunities of our oceans is incredibly exciting.”

OceanBased is now in discussions with suppliers for the pilot project, including Lockheed Martin, which played a pioneering role in early tidal power projects such as in the Bay of Fundy. Along with the pilot installation, OceanBased plans to build a substation on the coast in south-east Florida.

The flagship unit is expected to be ready to run offshore “by the second quarter of 2020”, with a 20MW “stepping-stone” array following soon after, while the 100MW project is developed “in parallel”, notes Alshemaimry.