Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Man Sees Energy Source in Nonstop Gulf Stream; Turbine Prototype Would Pull Power from Ocean

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Man Sees Energy Source in Nonstop Gulf Stream; Turbine Prototype Would Pull Power from Ocean

Article excerpt

Byline: David Bauerlein, Times-Union staff writer

All his life, Herbert Williams has been around water.

He's fished it while growing up in the Lake Okeechobee area of South Florida. He's boated it while working as a ship pilot in Alaska. He's built marine docks while a business owner in Palatka.

Now Williams, 59, has set his sights on one last water-related venture. He wants to install underwater turbines in the Gulf Stream off Florida's coast and use the current's flow as a natural energy source for generating electricity.

So far, he said he's invested about $430,000 to design and construct prototypes of the turbines, devoting all the time he can spare from his dock-construction business.

He's received patents for his designs, but he hasn't hooked any customers or large-scale financial backing. Despite the odds, Williams said he plans to scale back dock building and devote even more attention to the challenge of harnessing the power of the Gulf Stream.

"Money has no bearing on it at all," he said. "This is one of those things in life where you look out across the world and no one is doing it, but you know it can be done. In my heart, if I'm not the one who does it, I'm OK with that. I just want it to be done by someone."

The idea of using the Gulf Stream isn't new. There have been studies that date back to at least the 1970s, said Stephen Haig, an oceanographer at the National Hurricane Center. He said there had also been research into tidal power as a renewable energy source. The advantage of the Gulf Stream is that unlike tides, which have a down time, it flows with a steady current 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The concept of how to capture ocean energy is simple: In the same way that windmills are spun by the wind, the Gulf Stream will make an underwater turbine spin. The spinning motion creates electricity in a generator, which also would be underwater. Cables would carry the electricity from the generator to shore, where power lines then transmit the electricity to customers.

But there are a host of complicated design issues involved in successfully tapping the vast potential of the Gulf Stream, said Joe King, senior technology adviser at JEA. King, who has talked with Williams about the idea, said it would be a huge engineering feat and Williams needs to do much more research and development.

"It's almost like a man-to-the-moon project, you might say," King said.

But he adds there's no doubting Williams' enthusiasm for the idea.

"It's his baby. He calls it his baby, in fact," King said, noting that Williams named one of his test turbines Baby. "He wants to give birth to it, but he might be giving birth to it too quickly."

Williams said he became interested in hydropower more than 20 years ago when he was working as a boat pilot in Alaska. …

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