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Ocean Power Update
Jamais Cascio, 28 Mar 05

We've posted a number of items about ocean power (aka tidal power or wave power). It's the dark horse renewable energy system -- not many people are aware of it, but the more one learns about its features, the more attractive it becomes. Less transient than wind or solar power and less of a visual trigger for NIMBY backlash than wind turbines, ocean/tidal is starting to get more attention. If I was a betting man, I'd wager that, by 2050, ocean/tidal power will represent the largest source of centralized energy production worldwide (solar will probably figure higher overall, with the broad use of solar-embedded building materials, paints and polymers).

Technology Review has a good overview article on ocean power, including links to some companies developing the technologies and some discussion of current projects. Few of the technological or environmental claims in the piece will come as much of a surprise to WorldChanging readers. What might be a bit more startling is the news that the US Department of Energy has discontinued funding for ocean power development. As of the present the UK appears to be pushing to become the world leader in ocean/tidal power.

Oh, and one last cool thing about ocean power. Tides are generated from the pull of the Earth's moon. Ocean power can, in all seriousness, also be called Lunar Power.

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Comments

I did this story on wave energy in Fall of 2004 for The World public radio program.


Posted by: Clark Boyd on 28 Mar 05

Terrific article, Clark!


Posted by: Jamais Cascio on 28 Mar 05

Looks like a good opportunity for investment. How can we get the millionaire risk capitalists to look at lunar power on earth instead of flying into space?


Posted by: Emily Gertz on 29 Mar 05

Thank you very much, in general this is a very useful and encouraging post. I live on an island subject to very high utility costs because of our dependence on oil. It is great to know that there are technologies being developed that will let us take advantage of a resource that surrounds us (i.e. the South Pacific Ocean). But one question, what ever happened to the New York East River project? Did it die? I cannot find any recent news about the project. If anyone has more information about this one I would be interested in hearing about it.


Posted by: Tavita on 30 Mar 05

The way to get millionaire capitalists to invest in any kind of power is to show an above average rate of return. Preferably in a year or less.

Of course with all the environmental regulatory hurdles they have to go through plus government permission for use of a section of the coastal ocean you have a number of barriers to progress with wave energy.

Fairly applied regulations slow every thing down. Not just the bad guys.

My guess is that the money is going into wind because the payback is good and well established. In addition a wind plant can be put up in six months and the electrical grid need not be extended (at least for on shore wind).

There may be maintenance factors as well.

Every time I come here I find a number of folks untutored in energy, mechanics, science, control theory, production, logistics, etc. hoping for a miracle cure. It is as much fun as listening to flat earthers. Amusing occasionally. Boring for long stretches.

The major energy systems of 40 years hence are already in significant production.

That would be wind (1,000s of Megawatts per year [peak] installed every year) and solar voltaic (10s of Megawatts per year [peak] installed every year).

In the automotive sector it would be the gas/electric hybrid. (something like 1/2 million or a million will get made this year.)

Every thing else is experimental.

There is no magic cure. Progress as usual will be slow and steady. The best we can do is nudge it in the right direction. There is a lot of inertia in any industrial system.

If we had the magic cure tomorrow it would still take 40 years to build out. Even if the magic cure produced free energy it would still take 5 to 10 years. That would be design and test time. Time to ramp up production. Time to teach people how to install it. etc.

Take wind:

The first major installations (Tehacapi in CA I think) happened 25 or 30 years ago and were not very cost effective. It has taken that long for the size to get up to the range where wind power can compete with coal and nukes.

Photo voltaics have been in the pipe line longer but are not yet economical for large installations due to the slower rate of cost decline. Still it will be a factor. Just not as big as wind for quite some time (perhaps as long as 100 years).

Pretty much we have to make do with what we got and work for incremental improvements.

BTW if we convert to renewables in 100 years that still leaves us with 400 years of coal. Probably 100 years of oil (I think that point will be controversial) and several hundred years worth of nuclear power (I know, I know - the plutonium).

Plenty of time to make the changes (already in progress).

Don't panic. Unless of course you enjoy that sort of thing. Personally I worried about these sorts of problems 45 years ago. I became an engineer. I have operated nuke plants. I have studied wind. I first used solar voltaics in 1962. I have designed aircraft electrical system.

Quit complaing and get educated.


Posted by: M. Simon on 9 Apr 05

It is true the low density energy sources have all been investigated, many prototyped and several brought into production.

What I see as missing from your optimistic view is the rate of increase in consumption, third world countries are increasingly competing for resources.

China has reached the stage we were half a century ago, economy based on coal for steel and heating, have a look at the tonnage shipped.

It won't be long before the refined material will be in demand.

What stops this is that it takes an large infrastructure to distribute and use petrol first.
Infrastructure that caters for a moped filled from coke bottles is easy to implement, high volumes take a lot more.

Theo


Posted by: Theo on 9 Apr 05



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