Coastal Studies Institute and Energy Research

A unique collaboration of academic experts and industry professionals in the field of renewable energy is gathering data and developing technologies that could play a key role in the future development of alternative energy sources. 

Since 2010, the University of North Carolina Coastal Studies Institute (CSI) in Wanchese has led a renewable ocean energy research program funded by the state of North Carolina. Partnering with the colleges of engineering at N.C. State University (NCSU), UNC-Charlotte (UNCC) and N.C. A&T, the program has honed in on several key areas of renewable ocean energy research - efficient production, storage and transmission of energy, as well as permitting issues and environmental impact. 

East Carolina University is the administrative campus for CSI, which was founded in 2003 and includes member institutions Elizabeth City State University, NCSU, UNC-Chapel Hill and UNC-Wilmington, as well as ECU. 

Dr. Nancy White, CSI director, said the program's first challenge was figuring out where to start, because little research had been done on offshore energy, other than some initial modeling projects related to offshore wind turbines. 

"We sat down with the deans of these universities to decide the best way to move forward, and we convened a technical advisory committee … to set the priorities for what was important for North Carolina to do and how the state would fit into the global energy market," she said. 

Initially, the research focused on assessing the feasibility of producing energy from tidal flows, waves and the Gulf Stream. Eventually the latter was determined to be the most viable source of energy for North Carolina, as tidal flows and wave energy are not as powerful or consistent here as they are in other places in the world. Still, the N.C. coast can serve as a test bed for those technologies. 

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