Skip to main content

Marine Hydrokinetic Energy in the Gulf Stream Off North Carolina: An Assessment Using Observations and Ocean Circulation Models

  • Chapter
  • First Online:
Marine Renewable Energy


There has been global interest in renewable energy for meeting energy demands, and as these demands increase, it will become of greater importance to utilize low-carbon energy sources to mitigate anthropogenic impact on the environment. Onshore hydropower is responsible for half of the electricity generated by a renewable source in the USA. In the ocean, marine hydrokinetic (MHK) energy in western boundary currents (WBCs) can be considered for electricity generation by submarine turbines. WBCs are a continuous and sustainable source of energy that could be transmitted to shore to support coastal communities in future years. The Gulf Stream is the WBC of the North Atlantic subtropical gyre, and it flows for part of its course along the upper continental slope off the southeastern USA. This large-scale current has maximum flow speeds exceeding 2 m s−1, and this together with its proximity to the coastline distinguishes it as a potential source of MHK energy. Using current data from a moored acoustic Doppler current profiler (ADCP) and a regional ocean circulation model, MHK power densities offshore of North Carolina were found to average 798 W m−2 for the ADCP and 641 W m−2 for the model during a nine-month period at a potential turbine site, a difference of about 20%. The model was shown to have similar current speeds to the ADCP for slowly varying currents (fluctuations of weeks to months due to Gulf Stream path shifts), and lower speeds for higher frequency current variations (fluctuations of several days to a couple of weeks due to wavelike Gulf Stream meanders). This article considers the Gulf Stream as a prospective renewable energy source and assesses the power density of this WBC at multiple locations offshore of North Carolina. Understanding the Stream’s power density character, including its spatial and temporal variations along the North Carolina coast, is essential in considering the Gulf Stream as a future alternative energy resource.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in via an institution to check access.

Access this chapter

USD 16.99
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • Available as EPUB and PDF
  • Read on any device
  • Instant download
  • Own it forever
Softcover Book
USD 129.99
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • Compact, lightweight edition
  • Dispatched in 3 to 5 business days
  • Free shipping worldwide - see info
Hardcover Book
USD 179.99
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • Durable hardcover edition
  • Dispatched in 3 to 5 business days
  • Free shipping worldwide - see info

Tax calculation will be finalised at checkout

Purchases are for personal use only

Institutional subscriptions


  • Bane, J. M., Brooks, D. A., & Lorenson, K. R. (1981). Synoptic observations of the three-dimensional structure and propagation of Gulf Stream meanders along the Carolina continental margin. Journal of Geophysical Research, 86, 6411–6425.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bane, J. M., & Dewar, W. K. (1988). Gulf Stream bimodality and variability downstream of the Charleston bump. Journal of Geophysical Research, 93, 6695–6710.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bane, J. M., He, R., Muglia, M., Lowcher, C. F., Gong, Y., & Haines, S. M. (2017). Marine hydrokinetic energy from western boundary currents. Annual Review of Marine Science. doi:10.1146/annurev-marine-010816-060423. Invited Paper.

  • Barringer, M. O., & Larsen, J. C. (2001). Sixteen years of Florida current transport at 27° N. Geophysical Reseach Letters, 28, 3179–3182.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Boehlert, G. W., & Gill, A. B. (2010). Environmental and ecological effects of ocean renewable energy development: a current synthesis. Oceanography, 23, 68–81.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Brown, A., Beiter, P., Heimiller, D., Davidson, C., Denholm, P, Melius, J., et al. (2015). Estimating renewable energy economic potential in the United States: methodology and initial results. Tech. Rep. NREL/TP-6A20-64503, Natl. Renew. Energy Lab, Golden, CO.

    Google Scholar 

  • Chassignet, E. P., Hurlburt, H. E., Smedstad, O. M., Halliwell, G. R., Hogan, P. J., Wallcraft, A. J., et al. (2007). The HYCOM (Hybrid Coordinate Ocean Model) data assimilative system. Journal of Marine Systems, 65, 60–83.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Corren, D., Hughes, S., Paquette, J., Sotiropoulos, F., & Calkins, J. (2013). Improved structure and fabrication of large, high-power KHPS rotors. Tech. Rep. DOE/GO18168, Verdant Power, New York, NY.

    Google Scholar 

  • Gong, Y., He, R., Gawarkiewicz, G. G., & Savidge, D. K. (2015). Numerical investigation of coastal circulation dynamics near Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, in January 2005. Ocean Dynamics, 65, 1–15.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Halkin, D., & Rossby, T. (1985). The structure and transport of the Gulf Stream at 73° W. Journal of Physical Oceanography, 15, 1439–1452.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Imawaki, S., Bower. A., Beal, L., & Qiu, B. (2013). Western boundary currents. In G. Siedler., S. M. Grifies., J. Gould & J. A. Church (Eds.), Ocean Circulation and Climate: A 21st Century Perspective, 2nd ed. (pp. 305–38).Oxford, UK: Academic.

    Google Scholar 

  • Kabir, A., Lemongo-Tchamba, I., & Fernandez, A. (2015). An assessment of available ocean current hydrokinetic energy near the North Carolina shore. Renewable Energy.

  • Li, B., Bane, J., DeCarolis, J. F., Neary, V., de Queiroz, A. R., & Keeler, A. G. (2017). The economics of ocean current energy: a Gulf stream case study. Submitted to Nature Energy.

    Google Scholar 

  • Luettich, R. A., Birkhahn, R. H., & Westerink, J. J. (1991). Application of ADCIRC-2DDI to Masonboro Inlet, North Carolina: A brief numerical modeling study, Contractors Report to the US Army Engineer Waterways Experiment Station, August 1991.

    Google Scholar 

  • Mellor, G. L., & Yamada, T. (1982). Development of a turbulence closer model for geophysical fluid problems. Reviews of Geophysics, 20, 851–875.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Miller, J. L. (1994). Fluctuations of Gulf Stream frontal position between Cape Hatteras cand the Straits of Florida. Journal Geophysical Research, 99, 5057–5064.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • National Renewable Energy Laboratory. (2012). Renewable Electricity Futures Study. Hand, M. M., Baldwin, S., DeMeo, E., Reilly, J. M., Mai, T., Arent, D., Porro, G., Meshek, M., Sandor, D. (Eds.), 4 vols. NREL/TP-6A20-52409. Golden, CO: National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

    Google Scholar 

  • Neary, V. S., Previsic, M., Jepsen, R. A., Lawson, M. J., Yu, Y.-H., et al. (2014). Reference model 4 (RM4): ocean current turbine. In V. Neary, M. Previsic, R. A. Jepsen, M. J. Lawson, Y.-H. Yu, et al. (Eds.), Methodology for Design and Economic Analysis of Marine Energy Conversion (MEC) Technologies (pp. 180–228). Albuquerque, NM: Sandia Natl. Lab.

    Google Scholar 

  • Quattrocchi, G., Pierini, S., & Dijkstra, H. A. (2012). Intrinsic low-frequency variability of the Gulf Stream. Nonlinear Processes in Geophysics, 19, 155–164.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Richardson, P. L. (1977). On the crossover between the Gulf Stream and the Western Boundary Undercurrent. Deep Sea Research, 24, 139–159.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Shchepetkin, A. F., & McWilliams, J. C. (2005). The regional ocean modeling system (ROMS): a split-explicit, free-surface, topography-following-coordinate oceanic model. Ocean Modelling, 9, 347–404.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Tracey, K. L., & Watts, D. R. (1986). On Gulf Stream meander characteristics near Cape Hatteras. Journal Geophysical Research, 91, 7587–7602.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • VanZwieten, J. H., Duerr, A. E. S., Alsenas, G. M., & Hanson, H. P. (2013). Global ocean current energy assessment: an initial look. In Proceedings of the 1st Marine Energy Technology Symposium, April 10–11, Washington, DC.

  • VanZwieten, J., McAnally, W., Ahmad, J., Davis, T., Martin, J., Bevelhimer, M., et al. (2014). In-stream hydrokinetic power: review and appraisal. The Journal of Energy Engineering, 141, 04014024.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Webster, F. (1961). A description of Gulf Stream meanders off Onslow Bay. Deep Sea Research, 9, 130–143.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Yang, X., Haas, K. A., & Fritz, H. M. (2014). Evaluating the potential for energy extraction from turbines in the Gulf Stream system. Renewable Energy, 72, 12–21.

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references


We gratefully acknowledge funding from the North Carolina Renewable Ocean Energy Program for continued support of MHK energy research off North Carolina. We also appreciate Joe DeCarolis, Billy Edge, Mo Gabr, Harvey Seim, and Jim VanZwieten for their suggestions. Thank you to Patterson Taylor for supplying Fig. 6 and to Zhaoqing Yang and Kevin Haas for their comments that helped improve this chapter.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Caroline F. Lowcher .

Editor information

Editors and Affiliations



Tables list geographical position and depth for each model station in the Cape Hatteras (CH), Cape Lookout (CL), and Onslow Bay (OB) transects.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

Copyright information

© 2017 Springer International Publishing AG

About this chapter

Cite this chapter

Lowcher, C.F., Muglia, M., Bane, J.M., He, R., Gong, Y., Haines, S.M. (2017). Marine Hydrokinetic Energy in the Gulf Stream Off North Carolina: An Assessment Using Observations and Ocean Circulation Models. In: Yang, Z., Copping, A. (eds) Marine Renewable Energy. Springer, Cham.

Download citation

  • DOI:

  • Published:

  • Publisher Name: Springer, Cham

  • Print ISBN: 978-3-319-53534-0

  • Online ISBN: 978-3-319-53536-4

  • eBook Packages: EnergyEnergy (R0)

Publish with us

Policies and ethics