Monday, September 3, 2007

Waving goodbye to the energy crisis?

Finavera is an Oregon company that manufacturers the AquaBuOY, a device that sits in the ocean and makes electricity from waves. By 2011 it plans to operate two wave parks that will generate enough electricity to power 35,000 homes. The wave parks would cover a total of five square miles of ocean.

The plan is ambitious: ocean survival is non-trivial for man-made moving parts. In New York City, Verdant Power attempted to convert East River tides into electricity using six turbines but all failed within eight months.

Still, if Finavera or one of several other companies developing wave energy equipment can battle the ocean and win it could mean a significant reduction in pollution from oil and especially coal, which today produces half the US’s electricity.

Of course we’re talking lots of buoys out there along with thousands of miles of cable to bring the electricity back to land. In fact the total land area to accommodate the total USA demand for electricity would be a square grid 125 miles long on each side.

As coal, oil, and natural gas prices rise, so does investment in alternative energy sources. The investment curve should look like a hockey stick, with the change in slope occurring when the cost of fossil fuel equals that of alternative energy.

Logic would dictate that a huge increase in gas prices would make alternative energy investment – and a clean solution to the world’s energy needs – happen much sooner. But don’t wave goodbye to our energy woes quite yet – the wave technology is unproven and unless they’re looking for early retirement don’t expect any politicians to recommend a $5/gallon gasoline tax anytime soon.

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