May 31, 2009
High and dry on the tides
Years ago, long before there was such a thing as global warming, I remember reading an article about future energy sources. I believe it was back in the oil boycott days of the 70's in a once proud magazine called Scientific American.
One particular item in the article always stuck with me, the harnessing of tidal power.I remember thinking what a great idea, even if it could not fulfill all our needs it sure made sense to use perpetual tidal forces for electrical generation.
Growing up in the Pacific Northwest I was well aware of the use of hydroelectric power by damming the mighty Columbia. The idea of doing it in a less intrusive and far more environmentally friendly manner sure made sense to me. Over he years I have casually followed the efforts to get this idea off the drawing board and out of the magazines and into practical application. Last year I was glad to see that an area of the country I am familiar with was pushing the idea forward into practical application in the Puget Sound of Washington.
Of course in today's world, no good idea goes unpunished, whether it be hydrogen fuel cells or depositories for nuclear waste, if it has a chance to alleviate our energy crisis, it will be stymied by the best and the brightest who rule over us. While ethanol has been shown to be not only worse for the environment and for food prices, literally billions are being thrown at this loser, while relatively minor investments in a potential never ending source of energy are being cut.
Unlike ethanol, tides and ocean currents have no lobbyist in Washington DC to protect them from budget cuts. Nor would it seem does common sense.
Obama move to cut wave power funding upsets NW advocates
WASHINGTON, D.C. - The Obama administration has proposed a 25 percent cut in the research and development budget for one of the most promising renewable energy sources in the Northwest - wave and tidal power.
At the same time the White House sought an 82 percent increase in solar power research funding, a 36 percent increase in wind power funding and a 14 percent increase in geothermal funding. But it looked to cut wave and tidal research funding from $40 million to $30 million.
The decision to cut funding came only weeks after the Interior Department suggested that wave power could emerge as the leading offshore energy source in the Northwest and at a time when efforts to develop tidal power in Puget Sound are attracting national and international attention.
By some estimates, wave and tidal power could eventually meet 10 percent of the nation's electricity demand, about the same as hydropower currently delivers. Some experts have estimated that if only 0.2 percent of energy in ocean waves could be harnessed, the power produced would be enough to supply the entire world.
In addition to Puget Sound and the Northwest coast, tidal and wave generators have been installed, planned or talked about in New York's East River, in Maine, Alaska, off Atlantic City, N.J., and Hawaii. However, they'd generate only small amounts of power.
The Europeans are leaders when it comes to tidal and wave energy, with projects considered, planned or installed in Spain, Portugal, Scotland, Ireland and Norway. There have also been discussions about projects in South Korea, the Philippines, India and Canada's Maritime provinces.
The proposed cut, part of the president's budget submitted to Congress, has disappointed Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash.
"Wave and tidal power holds great promise in helping to meet America's long-term energy needs," Murray said, adding that Washington state is a leader in its development. "It's time for the Department of Energy to focus on this potential. But playing budget games won't get the work done."
Murray's staff said that while $16.8 billion in the recently passed stimulus bill is reserved for renewable energy and energy efficiency, none of it is earmarked for wave and tidal power.
Energy Department spokesman Tom Welch, however, said the Obama administration is asking for 10 times more for tidal and wave power than the Bush administration did.
"The trend line is up," Welch said. "The department is collaborating with industry, regulators and other stakeholders to develop water resources, including conventional hydro."
Murray sees it differently. Congress appropriated $40 million for the current year, so the Obama administration proposal actually would cut funding by a fourth.
Utility officials involved in developing tidal energy sources said the administration's approach was shortsighted.
"We need all the tools in the tool belt," said Steve Klein, general manager of the Snohomish County Public Utility District. "It's dangerous to anoint certain sources and ignore others."
The Snohomish PUD could have a pilot plant using three tidal generators installed on a seabed in Puget Sound in 2011. The tidal generators, built by an Irish company, are 50 feet tall and can spin either way depending on the direction of the tides. The units will be submerged, with 80 feet of clearance from their tops to the water's surface. They'll be placed outside of shipping channels and ferry routes.
The pilot plant is expected to produce one megawatt of electricity, or enough to power about 700 homes. If the pilot plant proves successful, the utility would consider installing a project that powered 10,000 homes.
"A lot of people are watching us," Klein said.
The Navy, under pressure from Congress to generate 25 percent of its power from renewable sources by 2025, will install a pilot tidal generating project in Puget Sound near Port Townsend next year.
In Washington state, law requires that the larger utilities obtain 15 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2020. The law sets up interim targets of 3 percent by 2012 and 9 percent by 2016.
Most of the attention so far has focused on developing large wind farms east of the Cascade Mountains. Because wind blows intermittently, however, the region also needs a more reliable source of alternative energy. Tidal and wave fit that need. Also, at least with tidal, the generators would be closer to population centers than the wind turbines in eastern Washington.
"The potential is significant and (tidal and wave) could accomplish a large fraction of the renewable energy portfolio for the state," said Charles Brandt, director of the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory's marine sciences lab in Sequim