By Andrew Nusca
Posting in Energy
Can sea swells power our homes? Construction on the first commercial wave-energy farm in the United States has begun off the coastline of Oregon.
The farm, which draws its power from the energy of ocean surface waves, is expected to power about 400 homes, according to a report in USA Today.
Here's how it works: As a float on a buoy rises and falls with the waves, it drives a plunger up and down, which is connected to a hydraulic pump that converts the vertical movement into rotary motion that drives an electrical generator.
Once electricity is produced, it's sent to shore via a submerged cable.
While some people are skeptical of putting waves to work in a cost-effective manner, the concept makes sense. After all, why not take advantage of water that's already moving?
(One suggestion: whether we ought to take advantage of the wind that's causing them instead.)
But the real problem is that waves are awfully unpredictable, and vary widely in height and strength. Too-large waves can damage equipment, but too-small waves aren't cost-effective for power generation.
Not to mention the environmental and economic concerns with creating "off-limits" areas of the ocean miles from the shore.
Hopefully, Ocean Power won't run into such problems -- another one of its projects is for the U.S. Marine Corps base in Hawaii.
Here's a great broadcast report on the wave power effort:
Feb 24, 2010
a similar, more in depth, and possibly easier math for people to understand. This math uses assumptions, if you are not comfortable with assumptions, then just don't read this comment. assuming the average electrical usage for someone in Oregon, near the coastline, is $200 per month, taking the given 400 homes, that is $80,000 per month of electrical costs. Again this is assuming that the electric company will charge the same rate as for the previous energy source. now we (hopefully) all know there are 12 months in a year. 12 x $80,000 is $960,000 of electrical charges per year. To make this math easier, I will round it to $1,000,000 per year. This means that it will take 60 years to cover the installation costs of the project.
The 1st coal fired power plants were much more expensive than they are now. The 1st cars were extremely expensive until Ford pioneered mass-production. This wave power generator is the FIRST in the US, it's not surprising that it's pricier. You'd think that since you're using a computer, you'd understand how technology drives prices down as production expands.
Repeal - Coal & fossil fueled plants might be cheaper in the short term, but the pollution is a hidden cost that is often ignored. The cost of pollution is real: detrimental health effects, poisoning of the waters and land, greenhouse gases etc. Then there's dependence on non-renewable resources (how much domestic coal/gas supply is enough? Probably not as plentiful as you think). Taking the Big View, renewable energy such as wave power are competitive.
Wind is not the primary source of waves. Ocean currents caused by warmer waters flowing to cooler (or vice versa) are solar powered. Also the moon's orbit affects tidal patterns. Wind plays very little role in tides.
Is this WAVE generation subsidized by the Federal Government or the State of Oregon? What is the cost per kilowatt and how does that compare with coal fired or natural gas fired power plants? Could larger conventional power plants, that would serve more people, be built for the same money? New technologies should only be adopted at public expense when they achieve parity in the market place with existing technologies without government support.