Ocean Energy: Eaton To Help Develop Utility-Scale Underwater Power For Navy

There have been a number of data center projects hoping to tap power from tidal energy or surface waves, but none have advanced very far. Now a leading player in data center power is participating in a  promising project to make ocean power a reality. Eaton announced the development of an underwater, utility-scale energy generation system for the U.S. Navy.

John Rath

October 29, 2012

3 Min Read
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Will tidal power generation ocean ever be harnessed to provide electricity for data centers? There have been a number of projects hoping to tap power from tidal energy or surface waves, but none have advanced very far. Now a leading player in data center power is participating in a  promising project to make ocean power a reality.

Eaton said recently that it will help develop an underwater, utility-scale energy generation system for the U. S. Navy. Built for the Naval Facilities Engineering Command (NAVFAC), Eaton will collaborate with Eclipse Group and Triton Energy Systems on the initiative.

Eaton is contracted to support the project’s land-based engineering, and will develop high-voltage electrical distribution equipment to efficiently convert and transmit safe, reliable alternative energy from the depths of the ocean to Navy shore facilities. For the project, Eaton has been designated as an Eclipse qualified partner on a Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) SEAPORT-E five year contract with a possible value in excess of $19 billion.

Harnessing the Kinetic Energy of Oceans

For Eaton's project, an underwater turbine electricity production technology will be used to provide a sustainable source of utility-scale power by capturing power from ocean currents. Tidal-powered clean energy is far from being a new concept.

In 2008 Google captured a few headlines when it filed a patent for a floating data center that would use the wave action in the ocean to generate electricity. Also in 2008 Morgan Stanley announced plans to spend $400 million to build a huge data center in Scotland that will be powered by tidal energy. MeyGen Ltd., a joint venture tidal- energy developer part-owned by Morgan Stanley, has joined three finalists in entering Scotland's $16 million Saltire Prize that seeks to spur innovation in marine energy. The prize is awarded for commercially viable wave or tidal- energy technology in Scottish waters with a minimum electrical output of 100 gigawatt-hours over two years

This past summer Energy Secretary Steven Chu recognized the nation’s first commercial, grid-connected tidal energy project off the coast of Eastport, Maine. The project represents the first tidal energy project in the United States with long-term contracts to sell electricity. The DOE maintains a marine and hydrokinetic database that includes wave, tidal, current, and ocean thermal energy, and information on the various energy conversion technologies, companies active in the field, and development of projects in the water.

2,610 Terawatt-Hours

The NAVFAC is the central authority for all energy research done in the US.  The Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) estimates the total annual average wave energy off the US coast at 2,610 terawatt-hours (TWh) per year, with Alaska and the western coast contributing for more than 80 percent of this. According to PikeResearch, water is 800 times more energy dense than wind, and marine technologies have two to three times the capacity factor of solar.

The down side? It's harder to harvest.

“This collaboration will help meet the technical challenges associated with high-voltage generation in a saltwater environment, “ said Jim Dankowski, manager, Marketing and Business Development, Government Sales and Solutions, Eaton. “It will also promote the commercial viability of deep ocean current alternative energy, which has vast potential to become an established, highly-reliable and efficient source of energy.”

Land-based engineering service support for the utility-scale generation system will be delivered from Eaton's Electrical Service and Systems (EESS) division. Eaton will also dedicate a safety support team to support the engineering and installation phase. Triton Energy Systems brings its engineering knowledge to develop the one megawatt electric ring generator system that will be used in this project. Eclipse Group offers its resources and expertise in turnkey solutions for subsea search and recovery.

“Eaton provides an extensive operational footprint across the globe with the ability to rapidly respond to any electrical supply, provisioning, engineering and installation challenge across the full spectrum of the project,” said Joan Saint Amour, chief executive officer, Eclipse Group. “This will be crucial for our collaborative effort as our innovational, alternative energy generation model develops within challenging underwater environments.”

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