Wave Of The Future: Electricity From Water

Wave of The Future: Water Power
Wave of The Future: Water Power
CBS

Currently, 19 percent of the world's electricity comes from water. But with two-thirds of water resources untapped, an enormous power plant has used coal and natural gas to provide power to New York City for decades. But now, under the waters of the East River, just yards away, a new technology is taking aim at the giant, armed with metal wings.

"We laughingly refer to this as our flight at Kitty Hawk," says Trey Taylor, founder of Verdant Power

Verdant is the first company to sell clean energy generated by water, reports CBS News correspondent Priya David.

"Here in the East River we get up to 5 nauts on a good day," says Jaime, a Verdant engineer. "Around 40 kilowatts of electricity per turbine."

That's enough to power about 30 houses a year, David reports. Windmill like structures churn underwater with the river's current, pumping electricity through cables that connect to an energy grid on shore.

For now, the turbines power the lights in a parking garage, and a supermarket on Roosevelt Island.

"I wish I could get it in my house," says Luis Bueno, a manager at the Gristedes grocery that gets its power from Verdant's turbines. "I pay so much money for gas and electricity. That's a great idea."

But great ideas take time to develop into working models. At first Verdant underestimated the river's power and the blades kept breaking down. Now, this third generation is re-tooled and more durable.

"We will be filing for a commercial license with the regulatory commission to put in 30 turbines and the field has a potential for 300," says Taylor. "There's where the MTA has expressed interest in harvesting that power."

By the end of the year, Verdant plans to unveil its biggest project yet. It will power an entire subway station - the lights, the escalators - using just turbine power. They dream of the day they can power the trains too, here in New York, and around the globe.

"A lot of the world is water," says Michael Russell, Scottish Minister of Environment. "A lot of that water moves and a lot of that water moves very fast. It's also entirely predictable."

Russell came to see New York's progress with tidal turbines. Scotland uses a different method to capture energy from waves and its abundant coastline powers entire communities.

"It's wonderful to see it going on in the center of one of the great cities of the world," Russell says.

The technology is also catching on in smaller towns, David reports. From the coast of Maine to Washington's Puget Sound, alternative energy companies are competing to become serious hydro-power players.

"Now we're off and running," Taylor says. "And boy we're going to run hard."