Energy and Mobility

The energy revolution in the waterways is only beginning. East River Power strikes me as a great overview. The Obama Administration’s postponement of drilling in the East Coast continental shelf is also meant to give a little more time for wind-power to get off the ground. While “Cape Wind” has been getting all the play off of Cape Cod, the State of NJ has approved 3 different installations far off the shores of Cape May.

Locally, the currents along this stretch of the East River make it a logical place to start tidal power efforts. During the peak of the tidal energy the water is moving nearly 6 miles per hour through here — about twice as fast as it moves through the much wider Hudson. The East River is unique in that it doesn’t really have much natural flow. It’s really a tidal strait connection the Harbor down by the Battery with Long Island Sound, and therefore it’s constantly pushed and pulled between these two bodies of water, themselves being pushed and pulled by the Atlantic Ocean.

What I find most interesting is that we are still very much in the research and development phase on all these projects. We hear about engineering and tech companies involved, but I wonder where are the naval architects? And as long as it’s taken for the Roosevelt Island Tidal Energy project to really get moving it’s clear they haven’t overcome all the fundamental design challenges that the environment presents: massive physical force and flow of the water; the highly corrosive effect of the salt in the water, and of course the occasional obstruction or collision with other things IN the water.

Looking ahead, I think we need to be careful about a few things:

1) over-industrializing our waterways — are we starting off on a slippery slope?

2) Protecting the needs of the maritime users like tugboats, ferries and barges — the waterways are STILL basic transportation resources and given our ever increasing needs for mobility we should keep them that way.

3) Ensuring we’ve got enough waterfront industrial land so that by the time we’ve got a workable tidal turbine, we’ve got available waterfront land where those turbines can be built and splashed into the water, and pulled out as needed so they can be repaired.

Energy and mobility — it’s really what this great country is all about! So let’s not have one at the expense of the other.

Carter Craft is a waterfront planner and licensed Captain working in the private sector. He is currently a Visiting Assistant Professor at the Graduate School of Planning and the Environmentat Pratt Institute where he teaches the summer Waterfront Seminar. For more than a decade, he has been involved with a wide range of civic and community groups working to revitalize the waterfront including the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance, the Manhattan Island Foundation, the Hoboken Cove Community Boathouse, and the New York Harbor School.


The views expressed here are those of the authors only and do not reflect the position of The Architectural League of New York.


Linda Halpern Campbell February 18, 2009

Excellent succinct thanks

Rik van Hemmen February 20, 2009

As a Naval Architect, the semi-fixed tidal turbines on the bottom of the East River along Roosevelt Island have always left me slightly uncomfortable. They are obstructions that stick up from the bottom.

How about building recreational piers, or use spudded barges where the generators are hung underneath the pier or barge?

One could engineer a solution where the tidal generators can be hinged above the water for maintenance too.

Spudded barges are real nice since they provide a working top surface, can be moved when needed, rise with the tide, which allows them to take advantage of the more rapidly moving top surface of the river and clearly exclude other traffic from the space where the turbines are positioned.

While I have not studied the subject deeply, I am also surprised at the focus on propellers, since they are expensive and not all that great for the low current speeds. Articulated paddle wheels should be more efficient, can cover a rectangular current cross section rather than adjoining circular disks and will not impact fish or other marine life.

Keith Rodan February 23, 2009

Paddle wheels do seem to be a more viable choice.

A Spudded barge? Should funding be found, the innovative John Krevy, of Pier 63 Maritime might be interested in hosting a trial installation on his 300+ foot spudded rail barge, presently at its new home at Pier 66.

Could this help make his multiuse, publicly-accessible attraction self-sustaining? As an electrical contractor, John would have an understanding about using power efficiently.

His Pier 66 barge’s amenities require electricity: a restaurant/cafe, several large vessels tied alongside, a theatrical lighting and sound system, and a below- decks shop.

How do you design and fit a 50 or 100′ experimental tide mill to the barge’s bottom? Could it be assembled and then welded underwater? What sort of environmentally-safe design could yield enough energy to supply some, most, or all of John’s power requirements?

Carter Craft February 25, 2009

As the urbanomnibus feature on the Floating Pool highlights, there are a lot of floating structures out there – including barges as well as the vessels underway. Every one of them has some sort of relationship to the environment. Ships that move around may be minimal, but moored barges or floating structures cast shadows that many in the regulatory community feel have very undesirable impacts. Every one of these structures — fast ferry and floating pool alike — could be outfit with monitoring technology to help us all better understand the “life beneath.”

To learn more consider attending the Hudson River Foundation’s seminar next week with a focus on floating structures and regulation:
or read about how Stevens Institute of Technology has adapted a 124 year old schooner to perform 21st century scientific observation and data collection: note-this links to a .pdf:

Friso van Reesema March 9, 2009

Carter, are hydraulic systems another form of energy production that may be more suitable in salt water? I heard there are a few wind generators in Liberty Park now.