Tapping the Source  

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The Age has an article on South Korea's tidal power ambitions (and some initial setbacks due to the strength of the current they are trying to tap) - "Tidal power turbines to generate a salty future for energy". Ocean power (wave, tidal and ocean current) is going to be one of the big 4 power sources in the future and some Asian countries like Korea and Taiwan seem to be putting significant effort into being the first to make use of it. Like geothermal energy, it has the potential to supply "baseload" power, thus confounding advocates of the "baseload fallacy" who claim renewables can't supply all our energy needs.

TWO separate accidents — one a mishap and the other, a major project gone awry — are playing major roles in shaping the development of tidal power in South Korea. Korea had planned to be the first nation to trial commercial-sized power generation from ocean currents, with the first of its pilot turbines in place at Uldolmok, in the country's south-west by the second half of this year.

Researchers at the Korea Ocean Research and Development Institute (KORDI) chose the site because it has flows up to 12 knots, believed to be among the fastest in Asia. "The purpose of the power plant is to do some experiments under the most severe conditions," said Yum Ki-dai, president of KORDI.

But picking so exacting a location has its perils. In the operation to install the one-megawatt pilot plant, one of the two tug boats involved lost control. Borne along by the powerful current, the barge carrying the 1000-tonne rig rammed into a bridge, closing half of it for three months, and setting the project back at least a year.

The experiment was intended to study the structural stability and efficiency of helical turbines, which adjust automatically to the changes in tidal flows. Experiments in the use of such turbines are also under way in Australia, with the Government-backed EnGen Institute testing a unit that may be suitable for use in the Port Phillip Heads, near Point Nepean.

Unlike wind and solar energy, ocean currents are regular, offering the potential to supply base-load electricity.

William Hollier, director of Melbourne's EnGen Institute, said while Korea offered a handful of sites suitable for ocean current power generation, Australia had many prospective locations, particularly in the Kimberley region of Western Australia. "There's sufficient energy there to generate enough hydrogen to meet all our transport needs and to generate enough electricity for the entire nation," Mr Hollier said.

The South Korean Government began researching tide and tidal current power in 2000, and researchers hope to have identified commercially viable technologies by 2010. Along with the Uldolmok pilot project, KORDI is also trying to improve the efficiency of more conventional barrage-type tidal power plants. The leading project involves building a power plant with a capacity of 240-260 MW at the entrance to Lake Sihwa by 2009, with another of as much as 520 MW being considered for Garolim Bay, both on the country's west coast.

The Miami Herald also has an article on plans to develop a tidal power project in the Florida Keys.
Douglas Bedgood recently stood on a defunct Henry Flagler railroad bridge, watching as the tide forcefully moved water from the Gulf of Mexico through a channel to the Atlantic Ocean. What he saw was untapped energy. Enough tidal power, he believes, to light and cool every residence and business in the Lower Keys.

To capture that power and convert it to electricity, Bedgood founded Florida Keys Hydro Power Research Corp. in July. The nonprofit is working to put underwater tidal turbine farms in the Keys' channels. ''People have been talking about this for a long time: Why not use the tides?'' said Bedgood, 65. ``But everybody was waiting for government or somebody else to do it. So it never got done.''

Bedgood, a massage therapist who has developed aquatic therapy devices and tried to build a wind farm in California in the 1970s, said his motive is green -- but not for the color of money: ``I want to do my part to save the planet.'' Two months ago, 25 engineers, politicians, government regulators and environmentalists crammed into his home on Love Lane in Key West to hear about the pioneering project. ''It may sound like a fairy tale, but it's too important for our environment not to try,'' said former Monroe County Mayor Shirley Freeman, chairman of Keys Hydro Power.

The goal: to clump enough turbines together -- at least 300 -- to create 160 megawatts of electricity while doing virtually no damage to the channel site or its marine life, part of Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. At peak usage, the Lower Keys uses 140 megawatts. ...

With skyrocketing oil prices, the Iraq war and global warming awareness, there's been a worldwide push to harness the clockwork power of the tides. ''There are 81 [tidal] technologies internationally being looked at, with 14 in the United States,'' said Sean O'Neill, president of the Maryland-based Ocean Renewable Energy Coalition. ``The potential is tremendous. But we have to get these projects into the water and get real data.''

The first turbine for commercial use, the SeaGen, is expected to be submerged in waters off North Ireland within months. ''We've got to get some momentum going in this country,'' said researcher Roger Bedard of the California-based Electric Power Research Institute. ``We've had government funding to investigate solar, geothermal, wind, biomass -- all the renewable technologies -- except ocean energy. Zero funding on ocean energy in the last 20 years.''

That may soon change. Earlier this month the Bush administration announced plans to tap into the ocean's potential as a source for alternative energy. There are currently some private U.S. projects, including one using the Gulf Stream at Florida Atlantic University. Last year, Verdant Power put the first test turbines into U.S. waters, in New York Harbor. ...

The evolving project has a Florida team that includes test turbine designer Kinetic Energy Systems of Ocala, turbine installers Ralco Atlantic of Key West, substation builder Power Consulting Associates of Gainesville and generator supplier Fisher Technologies of St. Petersburg.

While the tides are free, producing energy from them is not. Each turbine is expected to cost about $100,000. Bedgood said it will cost millions for the cable system and substation. To date, he has provided most of the financing for his end of the project, which he expects will cost about $15 million to get the first 10 turbines up and running. He's searching for private charitable contributors.

But ultimately, Bedgood thinks electricity from tidal power will be 25 percent cheaper to produce than from fossil fuels. ''The Florida Keys is a good place to try our first test,'' said Darwin Salls Jr., spokesman for Kinetic Energy Systems. ``It's a progressive place that is ready to lead the way to be energy free and a green community.''

The Web site for Bedgood's company is www.keyshydropower.com.

Renewable Energy Access has an article on a new Canadian tidal energy project - following in the footsteps of another project in the Bay Of Fundy - "Marine Current Turbines Installs Tidal Energy Turbines on Vancouver Island".
Marine Current Turbine (MCT) and BC Tidal Energy Corporation have signed an agreement to install at least three 1.2 Megawatt (MW) SeaGen tidal energy turbines in Vancouver Island's Campbell River by 2009. The agreement is the first step in a plan to develop larger tidal farms off British Columbia's coast, which the company says have a tidal energy potential of up to 4,000 MW. The announcement comes at the heels of Marine Current's agreement to develop a tidal power project in Nova Scotia's Bay of Fundy, located on Canada's eastern seaboard.

"Working with our Canadian partners, MCT is in a very strong position to deploy its pioneering clean electricity generation technology on both sides of Canada. SeaGen is the first and only commercial scale tidal device ready for deployment anywhere in the world," said Martin Wright, Managing Director of Marine Current Turbines

Campbell River Mayor Roger McDonell added, "We have the resource at our doorstep. We have a mature and capable ocean industry and scientific community in British Columbia. The economic opportunity is still wide open in this exciting new energy sector. It means new jobs and green power that is as reliable and predictable as the tides."

Moving back to the US, the San Francisco Chronicle has an article on a new Californian gold rush: the rush to tap the potential power of the ocean - "Prospectors claim stretches of ocean, hoping to harness wave energy".
A new California "gold rush" is on - to stake out claims to prime stretches of ocean along the coast where prospectors hope to harness waves to produce energy.

No one's succeeded in producing wave power commercially in the United States, but the lure of future feasibility as a clean source of energy is spurring potential developers to claim prime wave sites. The latest entrant is Sonoma County, which is seeking to snare what would be the largest zone of coastal seawater ever reserved for wave energy on the West Coast.

The Sonoma County Water Agency plans this week to ask federal regulators for exclusive rights to study and develop wave-energy technology along the entire 41-mile county coastline, extending 12 miles out to sea, an expanse of about 490 square miles, said agency spokesman Cordel Stillman. The permit application to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission follows a supervisors' vote approving the move Tuesday.

The holder of a FERC permit has exclusive rights to the claimed zone for three years for study and testing of the technology, and then may apply for a license to operate commercially. No operating licenses have been granted in the United States, and only one license application is pending - off the coast of Washington. "There's been a kind of gold rush going on for wave-energy projects," said Tim Anderson, spokesman for the Sonoma County Water Agency. The most sought-after location in North America has been on the West Coast, along Northern California, Oregon and Washington.

Prototypes have been demonstrated in some other parts of the world, including Scotland, Portugal, Denmark, Norway and Australia, though the technology is "still very much in the test phase," according to Margot Gerritsen, assistant professor of energy resources engineering at Stanford University.

The world's first commercial deep-sea wave-energy device is expected to begin operating in Portugal within the next five months, said Uday Mathur, a specialist in new resource development for Pacific Gas and Electric Co. ...

Sonoma County's application will become the seventh pending wave-energy application for a segment of California coastline, according to FERC records. None has been granted. Oregon has seen four permits granted, with another three pending, according to FERC spokeswoman Celeste Miller.

FERC began seeing a large number of applications for what the industry calls "hydrokinetic" power in 2004, Miller said. Hydrokinetic refers to power generated by waves and water currents. Until about a year ago, the applications were mostly for harnessing underwater currents, such as tidal and ocean currents, not waves. The only FERC hydrokinetic permit granted in California is for an underwater turbine to be turned by tidal currents somewhere near Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco Bay or just outside the bay. Still in the study stage, it is a joint venture by the city of San Francisco, PG&E and Golden Gate Energy Co. But in the past year, applications for wave-energy permits have been rolling in, Miller said.

Reilly said Sonoma County's water agency is filing for a permit because a public entity is in a better position to protect fisheries and marine habitats that could be affected by the wave machines, including their cables and huge concrete anchors. "Most of the prospective areas for wave arrays are right in the middle of gray whale migratory pathways," said Richard Charter, a representative of the nonprofit Defenders of Wildlife. Wave-array anchors could also adversely affect local fisheries and alter seabed habitats, introducing artificial reefs that could draw predator fish that would feed on salmon smolts heading to sea. They could affect sand deposition, thus damaging beaches and seabed ecology, he said, adding that no adequate studies of the environmental impacts have been done.

Another potential problem emerged with last week's oil spill that spread from San Francisco Bay, Charter said. Not only would oil probably foul the wave machines and cables, but the arrays also would block skimmers trying to mop up oil. ...

Wave machines come in many forms, some resembling long segmented snakes or ribbon-like strands. Others resemble large buoys, while still others utilize columns of water or underwater pistons. And they still face technical challenges. A prototype, the AquaBuOY by Finavera Renewables of Canada, sank off the Oregon coast last month. When its premiere was announced just the month before, Finavera called it "the first installation of a wave energy converter of this scale off the west coast of North America."

In contrast, Stanford's Gerritsen said she is "in favor of tidal energy machines." Mathur of PG&E said studies are still under way on where a tidal-energy turbine might be deployed near the Golden Gate Bridge.

An assessment published in June by the Electric Power Research Institute of Palo Alto estimated a large potential "that could be credibly harnessed" for both wave and tidal energy, with wave energy alone equal to all the conventional hydropower produced in 2004, or about 6.5 percent of the total U.S. electric supply. The potential power from tidal and in-stream river currents would be about 3.5 percent of the 2004 national electricity supply, the institute estimated.

I'll close by pointing to a review of one of my favourite surfing books - Kem Nunn's "The Dogs Of Winter", which (along with his other book "Tapping the Source") managed to define how I view the Californian coast, even though my own travels along it a decade or so ago were entirely unlike the scenes described within.
Out of the blue Jack Fletcher, a former hot-shot surf photographer now surviving on hack work, cheap beer and muscle relaxants, gets a call from the surfing magazine he worked for back in his glory days. Assigned to photograph Drew Harmon surfing the remote reef known as 'Heart Attacks', the photographer can't quite believe his luck: both the surfer and the wave are the stuff of legend, and mean a ticket back into the big time.

With two young surf punks in tow, Fletcher heads off for the grim wilderness of Northern California, and the Indian territory where Harmon now lives with his half-mad wife Kendra, who roams the woods at night wearing the clothes of a murdered girl. This is not what Jack had expected, and things get worse.

To reach the fabled Heart Attacks and ride the winter waves Harmon, Fletcher and the punks must cross the tract of blasted headland known to the local Hupa, Yurok and Tolowan Indians as 'The Devil's Hoof'. When a child dies in an accident, the white men are blamed; the Indians, swearing vengeance, kidnap and brutalise Kendra, then set off to kill the surfers.

In this desolate wasteland the search for the perfect wave becomes a quest for survival, as events lead inevitably to their final, tragic climax.


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