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The Wind Farm of the Future Might Be…Under Water?

UnderwaterpowerplantWe’ve talked a lot about the benefits of solar energy here on the blog recently, and about the innovative new ideas people have come up with to harvest that energy. But solar power isn’t the only source of alternative energy out there that’s making engineers get creative.

Another big alternative energy source is wind power and anyone who’s been driving through the countryside in the Midwest has seen these giant wind turbines spinning away on a breezy morning. But there are some downsides to wind energy: for one, they can kill birds that fly too close to their blades. They can cause headaches in people that live nearby and some people just simply think they look ugly!

But luckily, there is a new project out of Scotland that has all the benefits of wind turbines and potentially none of the downsides. According to The Atlantic, Scotland is planning on using the same technology behind wind farms, but on the ocean floor to harness the power of the tides! If all goes according to plan, this underwater tide farm may produce enough energy to power a third of Scotland!

This project comes from the green-tech company MeyGen and will be working this fall on installing underwater turbines into the Pentland Firth, a stretch of water in northern Scotland that’s known for being very energetic. The tides of the Pentland Firth can churn at rates of up to 18 miles per hour—which could make Scotland “a world leader for turning sea flow into electricity,” according to a MeyGen spokesperson.

A common objection to wind turbines is how unsightly they are—and underwater windmills have the benefit of invisibility. Undersea turbines also benefit from the fact that tides are predictable in ways that winds are not; you can know how much power you’re generating, basically, on any given day. The turbines should also have little impact on marine life, unlike wind farms, which unintentionally disrupt birds’ migration patterns.

But installing these turbines are not without their own unique challenges. The Pentland Firth is a harsh environment to begin with, and the turbines can only be installed at the deepest of ocean depths so they don’t disrupt the paths of ships on the surface. They also need to be installed in bays or headlands, where tidal flows are at their most intense.

If all goes according to plan, though, Scotland’s underwater power plant—some 100 turbines—could produce 398 megawatts of electricity a year! That’s enough energy to power a third of Scotland’s population. It would also mean, more broadly, that the world may have another source of reliable and clean energy and make another step towards breaking the addiction to foreign oil.

Green energy companies, like MeyGen, are doing great work towards saving the planet and creating amazing new technology to harness natural energy sources. Engineers at these companies are letting the creative juices flow non-stop in coming up with ways to make cities around the world energy independent and improving the existing wind- and solar-farms so they are more efficient. Even here in Nebraska and Iowa, the ethanol industry is doing good work, too.

So, let’s get excited about these new energy projects around the world. We can hardly wait for the next big project to show how innovation and technological know-how will help save the planet!

photo credit: TheAtlantic.com 

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