The oceans of the world have provided us with many things that we’ve needed over the centuries. The food that they’ve provided has sustained us with protein, their surface has given us seemingly endless miles of watery freeway and now, as the liquid gold oil is running out, perhaps new ways of generating power.With the disturbing events in the Middle East and a massive blackout that affecting 50 million Americans, we are becoming more concerned about the long-term availability of oil to fuel our lifestyles and power plants – not to mention our SUV’s.All of us have been at the not-so-tender mercies of the oil producing nations and gasoline manufacturing companies for over a century now. The economic and environmental effects of this have become painfully obvious since the 70’s oil crisis with the ever-increasing cost of a gallon of gas and global warming coupled with smog.Projections, based on current known oil reserves, indicate that within less than five decades we will be functionally out of oil as a planet. Not a very promising outlook for our children and grandchildren. Since the mid-sixties we have heard about alternative sources of energy, including solar, biomass, wind and gasohol.While oil shortages and global warming are projected to cost the global economy uncounted billions one industry is looking forward to a bright future. The European wind energy industry is booming. On the continent wind farms are springing up all over – in fields, on hills and floating on the sea. The European Wind Energy Association projected at its annual meeting last week that if wind farms, at their present level of electrical output, were to cover a cumulative area the size of Greece all of Europe’s electrical energy needs would be met.At the present rate of wind farm development 5.5% of Europe’s current electricity needs will be met by 2010 for a total of 75 gigawatts. This energy would be generated without air pollution.The space program, which gave us breakthroughs in areas like microelectronics and Tang, seems to be on the verge of doing it again. The primary power source used in a spacecraft is the fuel cell. The fuel cellâ€™s power source is the most basic element in the universe and the most common one on our planet â€“ hydrogen. Fuels cells are 90% to 95%+ efficient which puts them way above the internal combustion engines, generators and turbines. The majority of our hydrogen is locked up in water.To get it out is a very simple process that we did in high school basic chemistry. An electrical current is passed through a vial of water and oxygen with generated around one electrode and hydrogen at other. The hydrogen can be stored under pressure and used at a generating site to make more power when needed or distributed like natural gas.All this is well and good but how do we generate the power to make the hydrogen in the first place? The ocean’s waves, tides and the temperature difference between deep ocean waters and the surface can provided us with an endless supply energy to make the hydrogen.The world’s first commercial wave power station in Scotland came successfully online in 2000 and feeds electricity into the UK’s national grid from the Scottish island of Islay. The station has a 15-year power purchase agreement with the major Public Electricity Suppliers in Scotland. This important event has opened the door for wave power to become a major contributor of renewable energy and assist meeting obligations under the Kyoto Protocol by reducing emissions of greenhouse gases.The equipment is called LIMPET and was developed jointly by WAVEGEN a commercial company and with European Union support. The LIMPET is rated at 500 kW and able to provide enough electricity for about 400 local homes.Key innovative features of this shoreline technology are: low cost power, simple high reliability air turbine, maximum local content, all electrical equipment on land, easy plant access by road, easy construction and installation with no marine operations and a 60 year life span with minimal maintenance.In Vancouver, BC a new clean energy technology, representing over 20 years of work just came online. The Davis Hydro turbine, a device that generates electricity from ocean currents started up. Six prototypes of up to 100 kW each have been built and tested and multiple independent assessments have verified their technical feasibility.One of the primary advantages of this technology is the energy density. While solar and wind systems are well suited for remote locations, ocean energy is ideal for large-scale developments in the multiple giga watt range. Seawater is 832 times as dense as air providing a five-knot ocean current with more kinetic energy than a 210 mph wind. The power system acts as a series of underwater windmills exposed to daily hurricane forces. It is also one of the largest untapped renewable energy resources on the planet.Preliminary surveys have shown a global potential of over 450,000 mega-watts, representing a market of more than $550 billion. In areas where detailed examinations have been conducted, the discovery of additional sites suggests that the actual resource is considerably larger.Another technology for generating electricity from different ocean temperatures is known as “ocean thermal energy conversion,” or OTEC. OTEC makes use of the difference in temperature between the warm surface water of the ocean and the cold water in depths below 2,000 feet to generate electricity. As long as a sufficient temperature difference (about 40 degrees Fahrenheit) exists between the warm upper layer of water and the cold deep water, net power can be generated. The cold sea water from the OTEC process has many uses, including air-conditioning buildings, assisting agriculture, and growing fish, shellfish, kelp and other sea plants which thrive in the cold, nutrient-rich, pathogen-free water.All this may sound like something that is far in the future but it is closer than you might think. California recently passed a law that requires any new car sold or brought into that state by 2009 to have zero percentage emissions. Yes, that is not a typo 0%. Why do you think we are hearing so much about hybrid cars? The only way to do this is with fuel cells, which run on hydrogen.Now is the time to start learning about this technology and its associated politics so it does not get pulled into the fat cats’ pockets. It is your future and you can find out about it by reading books like “The Hydrogen Economy” by Jeremy Rifkin and “Tomorrow’s Energy” by Tom Harkin. The Internet has a great deal of information on this topic â€“ just type in fuel cells, wind energy, ocean electricity or hydrogen production to find out more.
Think Global – Act Local!