top of page


at UNC Coastal Studies Institute

Manteo, NC


Ask anyone about Cape Hatteras, North Carolina and they will remark about the incredible beauty and

rich ecosystem of this popular tourist destination. Ask researchers from University of North Carolina Coastal Studies Institute (UNC CSI), though, and they will tell you that this area has untapped energy capabilities.


Just fifteen miles off the coast of Cape Hatteras flows the Gulf Stream. Traveling northeastward at five miles per hour and transporting 2.5 billion cubic feet of water per second, this powerful current has more volume flow than all of the world's rivers combined. Researchers at UNC CSI are currently working to identify the best location to extract energy from the Gulf Stream based on resource, economic, environmental, and engineering considerations. If they are successful in harnessing just 0.1% of the available power, the result could yield 300 GW of power, which is the equivalent of 150 nuclear power plants. To do this, researchers must find a "sweet spot" for capturing optimal power from the Gulf Stream.


Their research currently consists of three different types of observations. The first is a moored Acoustic Doppler Current Profiler (ADCP) in a pod. This device sits on the sea floor and measures the current speed and direction in a column of water above the instrument, over nearly the entire water column. The ADCP measure the currents every 10 minutes, and has been for over three years. The second method uses a boat mounted ADCP that is driven across the stream measuring currents below the boat down to a depth of 100m. This method provides researchers with a ribbon snapshot of the Gulf Stream flow across the shelf and into deeper water. Finally, surface currents measurements over a vast area are made with a high-frequency Coastal Ocean Radar (CODAR) network. The CODAR is land-based, and measures the currents consistently every hour, allowing researchers to record changes in the Gulf Stream position. Radars are located in several locations, including Duck, Cape Hatteras, and the Core Banks of North Carolina.


Researchers are still assessing the potential for power generation, and for grid attachment, but are hopeful that harnessing power from the Gulf Stream could provide North Carolinians with a significant source of clean, renewable energy.


The Gulf Stream may be the only viable source of ocean energy for the state that could actually power all homes for the entire state.

bottom of page