PG&E kills wave power for California as Scotland moves forward

Pacific Gas & Electric is abandoning pilot projects for wave power off the California coast. It cited lack of funding and high costs of the projects as the primary reasons.

The projects were tiny in size, 2 MW and 5 MW, quite unlike current plans by Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom (formerly S.F. Mayor) to build a 10-30 MW wave project near San Francisco which could be expanded to 100 MW. Clearly there are economies of scale in energy projects. The 5 MW PG&E project would have cost at least $50 million while San Francisco’s has been estimated at $120-140 million, less than three times the cost for potentially vastly more power.

The ocean is an unforgiving place. Salt corrodes equipment. Wind and waves knock things around. However, development of wave power continues. There are a fascinating number of wave energy generation systems being tested now: oyster-like contraptions that sit on the ocean floor, buoys and snake-like devices that create power from passing waves, and a new one like looks like a squid.

Scotland thinks wave power can be commercially viable and is marshalling huge resources to find ways to create power from waves, as well as wind and hydro. Scotland has been called the “Saudi Arabia of renewable energy” and is already generating more energy than it uses. Once they harness more of it, specifically wave and tidal, their energy output will be prodigious. One wonders why California can’t do this too.

The European Union may put substantial funds into a wave power project in Scotland. If funded and built, it will be the biggest grid-connected wave energy system in the world. Multiple other wave power projects are being planned or have already begun in Scotland. Wave power, unlike wind or solar, is quite dependable and steady. It’s doesn’t fluctuate much, especially not in the windy and stormy ocean off the north of Scotland. It seems to me that Scotland is racing ahead, developing important new technologies while California took a few timid baby steps then gave up. Some company, maybe several of them, will figure out how to do wave power at grid scale. But it doesn’t look like such companies will be from California or even from the US.

Europe has a vision, a big one. They want to produce as much of their own power as possible from renewable sources, and they want to do it relatively soon. This isn’t just because they want to hug trees and stop climate change. They are also doing it because they don’t want to rely on dicey oil and gas pipelines, which pass through sometimes unstable and unfriendly areas. The Desertec Foundation, which is backed by huge Eurozone commercial interests, wants to install vast solar power in the Sahara, and then send what those countries don’t use to Europe via direct current. That’s what I mean by thinking big. There are no such projects in the U.S. or California on this scale. And there need to be. We are falling behind.

(crossposted from CAIVN)

Squid-like wave power device for Scotland

SQUID, which looks somewhat reminiscent of its namesake, has an inflatable absorber similar to a large balloon which fills with sea water. Sitting just under the surface, the absorber is moved by passing waves and the energy from this motion drives a generator to produce electricity.

AlbaTERN, the company developing it, hopes to have a test 10 MW array withing six years off Scotland.

Gavin Newsom advocates California wave power

Pelamis Wave Power

(Newsom is currently Mayor of San Francisco and will become California Lt. Gov. as soon as the S.F. City Council appoints a replacement for him.)

Gavin Newsom says wave power eight miles off the coast of San Francisco is economically feasible and can be done at a cost less than solar power. He originally favored tidal power but “The tidal was bad news. … The more we learned, the worse it was.” Tidal power works by installing giant turbines on the sea bed and using the flow of the tides to generate power. Such power is variable but predictable. No power can be generated when the tides are at ebb. However, the amount of power generated is completely predictable based on the tides. But, the ocean is an unforgiving place, and tidal turbines take enormous punishment from the currents. Hence, development of successful tidal turbines has not been particularly successful.

Wave power, by contrast, is steady power and is created by the motion of waves. While technical challenges still remain, wave power appears to be more promising. A 30 MW test site offshore of San Francisco looks feasible, and Newsom is confident private investors can be found to fund much if not all of it. While no decision has been made on which technology to use, two of the leading companies are Aquamarine Power and Pelamis Wave. Aquamarine Power makes a 160 foot tall oyster-like generator that rests on the ocean floor with the top of the machine just above the waves. The power of the waves drives huge pistons. Pelamis has a 500 foot long device that resembles a snake that sits on the sea surface. It is tethered to the ocean floor and power is created by hydraulic rams.

The wave study for San Francisco suggests that upwards of 100 GW hours of power could be produced at a cost less than solar. This is costlier than traditional power, but as the technology progresses, the cost will drop. Imagine the benefits if California could produce enormous amounts of clean, renewable energy in its own offshore areas without having to transport fuel to create the power from coal mines or oil from overseas. Newsom plans to continue pushing wave power for California. Let’s hope his plan succeeds.

Crossposted from CAIVN.

Scotland on track for 80% renewable energy by 2020

We can do that here too. We have the resources and know-how. All we need is the consensus and determination to do it. Then we would have copious amounts of clean energy produced with our own resources within our own borders.

Scotland already gets 29% of its energy from renewables. By 2020 it will be 80%. They are leading the planet on this. Let’s do the same.