Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Energy & the Ocean: Part 1

This year we are going to publish a series in Making Waves that explores using the ocean as a source of renewable and clean energy. This is Part 1 - an intro on the issues to be addressed. We welcome and encourage your comments!

Last summer, when gas prices neared $5 per gallon and “Drill, Baby Drill” became a campaign slogan, Americans were reawakened to our dangerous and dependent energy policies. Not since the 1970s had energy issues been so prominent in the public consciousness. Once again it became glaringly obvious that we are not only overly dependent on climate warming fossil fuels, but also that we get much of that petroleum from foreign countries – not all of whom are friendly.

A quick check of the facts in combination with the staggering drop in oil prices last fall, demonstrated the futility of offshore drilling as a means of solving our energy crisis. Offshore drilling would only account for 3% of the world’s oil supply.

This summer’s gas price bubble reminded us that now is the time to invest in alternative energy sources that will reduce emissions of greenhouse gases while providing domestic sources of energy, spurring innovation and creating jobs.

As Surfrider Foundation’s policy on climate change acknowledges, increased warming of the Earth’s atmosphere will be felt severely at our coasts. Impacts range from increased coastal erosion and flooding, increased severity of storms, loss of wetlands, acidification of the oceans and threats to coral reefs. The key element to turning around global climate change is to reduce our dependency on fossil fuels for energy.

When looking into our energy sources, it is important to understand that we have two primary energy uses that come from different sources. One major energy use is transportation (cars, shipping, trains, airplanes, etc.). Transportation is powered almost exclusively on petroleum. The other major energy use is electricity to power our houses, office buildings, etc. Electricity has traditionally derived from a mix of sources including coal, hydroelectric, nuclear and natural gas.

The move to electric powered transportation will alter this balance and increase our electricity needs while decreasing our petroleum needs (unless we start using more petroleum to generate electricity).

There are a number of new alternative energy sources that are being developed that are designed to tap into natural energy along the coasts and in the oceans to create electricity. These include wind, tidal, wave and current energy. All of these sources hold the promise of creating domestically available renewable and clean energy that could also support economic development along the coasts. However, there are many questions and concerns about ocean energy, including potential impacts to ocean recreation, nearshore ecology, coastal processes, public safety, aesthetics, and fishing access.

The conflict between supporting clean, renewable energy sources and working to protect the coast from potential impacts presents us with a challenge. It would be easy to succumb to a “Not In My Back Yard” (NIMBY) mentality and just say no to these projects. But by saying no to these projects we are inherently saying yes to some other source of energy that may have negative global ramifications (e.g. coal). The question remains, how can we support clean energy sources along the coasts while minimizing their impacts to our oceans, waves and beaches.

We believe the answer is to constructively participate in project planning and to promote a set of “best practices” to ensure that these impacts are minimized to the fullest extent possible

In this series, we will explore efforts to open new areas to offshore drilling and innovative technologies such as wave energy, wind power, tidal and current energy. We will describe how they work, what the state of the technology is, and how they may impact the coast.

We hope you will join in this conversation. Comment below.


Salva Tres Palmas said...

Thank you Chad for articulating a sensible approach to energy and our oceans.

The same approach you advocate for exploring using the ocean as a source of renewable and clean energy is one we can apply to a plethora of challenging life decisions.

As you said,"It would be easy to succumb to a “Not In My Back Yard” (NIMBY) mentality and just say no to these projects. But by saying no to these projects we are inherently saying yes to some other source of energy that may have negative global ramifications (e.g. coal)."

Mark Holmes, Green Wave Energy said...

Thank you for your series on ocean wave energy. I think that it is crucial for everyone involved with such energy generation become informed on what the costs, the benefits and the risks are in using ocean waves to generate electricity. I look forward to reading the rest of your article!

My company, Green Wave Energy Corp. (GWEC) http://gweconline.com/
is developing an ocean wave generator - it consists of multiple units -- each unit is a tube approximately 16 feet long and six feet in diameter, with a propeller at the bottom of the tube. A generator is located inside the tube. The generator harvests energy from ocean swell (not crashing waves).

Unlike many other companies, we have no interest in taking material, people and heavy equipment miles offshore to build plants in pristine deep water, marine sanctuaries or other special places, like Trestles. No only is an "offshore" strategy really expensive, it also poses grave risks to the environment, the consequence of which might not be seen or recognized for some time after the impact has been felt -- when wildlife has died; the water is polluted; and its costs millions, if not billions, of dollars to clean up.

Rather, our technology is designed for nearshore locations that are already heavily used by people and commerce; or are located in places people do not like to frequent -- undersides of piers, breakwaters and bridge pilings.

Indeed, if we deploy our generators correctly, they should be difficult to see from the ocean's surface; and should have little or no effect on ocean water quality or wildlife.

By contrast, if there is any adverse impact from our generators, we are going to be able to see them quickly and clearly -- and so will other independent observers -- as they will almost certainly be within
walking or swimming distance of the generators! This way, we will know about issues quickly; and be able to move just as quickly to remedy them, should they arise.

Make no mistake. We want to deploy our generators quickly so that we can start generating clean energy. However, we also want to be good neighbors and only generate clean power, and plan and build our generators and plants only in consultation with, and after considering the advice and concerns of, important stakeholders such as Surf Rider Foundation.

In short, if we cannot get Surf Rider and other interested parties to endorse our plans and our technology, we will not go forward -- we will look for alternative locations and solutions.

We hope we can count on your advice as we try to generate clean energy in an environmentally sensitive way.

Best regards,

Mark D. Holmes
CEO, Green Wave Energy Corp.
"Our fuel prices never go up!"