Researchers at Florida Atlantic University plan to anchor turbines in the Gulf Stream's fast-moving waters off the state's east coast to test whether ocean currents can be converted into electricity.

The project will be carried out with the support of the Bureau of Ocean and Energy Management (BEOM), which for the first time has leased out federal waters as a test site.

"The Gulf Stream contains a tremendous amount of energy, and this technology offers exciting potential to expand the nation's renewable energy portfolio," BOEM Acting Director Walter Cruickshank said in a press release this week announcing the deal.

ocean current energy

The U.S. Bureau of Energy Management says it has been estimated that taking just 1/1000th the available energy from the Gulf Stream would supply Florida with 35 per cent of its electrical needs. (U.S. Bureau of Energy Management)

Near the end of the summer, scientists will begin anchoring buoys equipped with a variety of sensors to the ocean floor, in about 300 metres of water some 12 nautical miles off the Florida coast near Fort Lauderdale.

The equipment will monitor the strength of the currents around the clock.

Scientists will then conduct additional testing with a prototype turbine to determine how much electricity could be produced by the currents, said Sue Skemp, executive director of FAU's Southeast National Marine Renewable Energy Center.

The Gulf Stream is a massive ocean current that runs north from the southern tip of Florida to the Canadian coast before turning east and heading across the ocean as the North Atlantic current.

It comes closest to shore near south Florida, making it an ideal location to test tether turbines to harness the current, which moves at about 5.4 km/h, according to a 2012 University of Massachusetts study.

Ocean currents are more reliable than fickle winds, according to the BOEM, and could potentially provide up to 35 per cent of Florida's energy needs.

Researchers say the project is still in its early stages but hope the tests will help them understand how and where to place the turbines.

"It's going to depend on the types of devices, the design aspects and the performance levels they can obtain," Skemp said.