We build ordinary windmills to extract useful power from wind energy. We put turbines in rivers (usually accompanied by dams) to extract useful power from downhill water flow. The second is more "e...
We build ordinary windmills to extract useful power from wind energy. We put turbines in rivers (usually accompanied by dams) to extract useful power from downhill water flow. The second is more "energy intensive" than the first, which is why we all know that dams are great sources of electrical power, while electric-generator windmills spent decades in the economic doldrums (return on investment --ROI-- is relatively tiny, and only recently proved viable on a large scale).
Anyway, putting the equivalent of a windmill in a steady ocean current, say the Gulf Stream, should have an automatically-viable ROI that is intermediate between windmills and ordinary hydropower. This is because water is something like a thousand times denser than air, so a volume of flowing water contains a thousand times the energy of an equal volume of equally-flowing air.
Do note that the ocean has different currents at different depths. I once read somewhere that near the seafloor underneath the Gulf Stream is another current going the opposite direction. If true, then we can build towers on the seafloor, just like ordinary windmills, to extract power. Being so deep will protect them from ships, and most sea life is found at other depths, so they won't be bothered. Also, another thing that protects sea life is the fact that underwater windmills will have a SLOW rotation rate, due to that same greater density of water over air. This means we can also put windmills in the rich-life upper ocean currents; animals will have time to dodge the blades. (Some life forms, like barnacles, need to be discouraged; probably everything needs to be coated with Teflon or something even more slippery.)