In a pilot project designed to harness the power of the ocean breezes along North Carolina’s coast, the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill and Duke Energy announced they have signed a contract to place up to three demonstration wind turbines in the Pamlico Sound.

The pilot project builds on a nine-month study completed in June 2009 by UNC for the North Carolina General Assembly, which found “North Carolina is well positioned to develop utility-scale wind energy production.”

These demonstration turbines may be the first turbines placed in water in the United States, providing UNC with a valuable opportunity for ongoing research about issues raised in its coastal wind study. Duke Energy will pay for the turbines and their installation. UNC will continue its research throughout the project.

“This project is a great example of how university research can expand our understanding of an issue—in this case, wind energy,” said UNC Chancellor Holden Thorp. “Then, an industry partner like Duke Energy can use that research to do what they do best and develop this on a larger scale.”

The pilot turbine installation will facilitate utility-scale wind-energy development by enabling studies to optimize measuring and predicting the wind resource, quantifying ecological impacts and demonstrating turbine performance in tropical storm conditions.

“We are looking forward to working with UNC and residents of the Outer Banks to determine if and how we can use wind energy on a larger scale,” said Brett Carter, president of Duke Energy Carolinas.

In September, North Carolina Gov. Beverly Perdue, state Sen. Marc Basnight, state Rep. Tim Spear and representatives from UNC and Duke Energy held a meeting on the Outer Banks to get community feedback on the pilot project. UNC and Duke Energy will continue to seek out community comments and answer questions about the project.

“This project is the critical step that will determine the future of wind power off the Outer Banks,” Basnight said. “It will allow for community feedback and collaboration, and it will be a very positive information-finding effort. People will be able to view the turbines working, and we will gain a greater understanding of how to use wind as a renewable-energy source. What we learn from this project will chart the future of offshore wind energy for our state, and I am excited that the Outer Banks is a part of this effort.”

Although wind power produced only about 1.5 percent of the world’s electricity in 2008, its usage doubled between 2005 and 2008, according to a report by the nonprofit World Wind Energy Association. Duke Energy has 634 megawatts (MW) of land-based wind energy in Pennsylvania, Texas and Wyoming; another 99 MW under construction; and an additional 251 MW of wind projects scheduled to begin operations in 2010.