The power of oceans: Hydrokinetic energy and how it works

As the debate about the future of U.S. green energy rages around the country and in the halls of Congress, it's important for everyday Americans to learn more about the different types of renewable energy sources that are available to us.

Today, we're going to look at a power source that has been instituted in some areas and may become more widespread as technology develops: hydrokinetic energy.

This type of electricity generation relies on the ebb and flow of ocean water. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, there are three major types of equipment used in current hydrokinetic systems:

Submerged turbines – These instruments utilize river or ocean currents to drive large propeller systems and thus generate electricity. They come in a variety of sizes for different deployments, ranging from those that can be placed in large streams to ones installed at the edges of harbors to capture the wakes created by passing ships.

Tidal generators – A specialized type of hydrokinetic technology, these machines create power by capturing the rise and fall of the tides. However, this form of energy production can only be used in areas with a substantial difference between low tide and high tide elevations. Otherwise, it would cost more electricity than it brings in.

Wave power buoys – If you've ever been on a harbor cruise or walked along the beach, you've seen those big orange buoys with bells or light fixtures attached to them. In the past several years, designers have been equipping these bobbers with power generators that feed into a long cable. This cable traces back to the shore, where it's connected to the local power grid.

The DoE says on its website that many companies are pursuing hydrokinetic energy solutions to take the pressure off local power grids and reduce reliance on fossil fuel power. While this market is still in its infancy, it's probable that Americans will see more and more water-based electrical sources in the future.

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