A Better Clean Power Source

By Bob Gerecke

Most of the clean power discussion – as well as the actual construction - focuses on wind and solar power.  Opponents point to the disadvantage that both are variable and intermittent.   The debate ignores two sources of continuous clean power: ocean swells and waves.
 
Our country has long coastlines, providing locations for a huge amount of generating capacity.  Since the most populous areas are near the coasts, transmission lines will be shorter, cost less and lose less power than lines from inland solar and wind farms, and they won’t transit wildfire areas.  No batteries will be needed, thereby eliminating their cost and the environmental impacts when they’re manufactured and retired.  Beautiful scenery and animal habitats won’t have to be covered by solar and wind farms or “pumped storage” systems.  There will be less need for excess capacity, since there will be no peak periods without full power.
 
Ocean swells especially have the advantage of not being sensitive to changes in wind velocity, whereas wave heights and frequencies are affected.  Low-profile generators such as horizontal spinning columns mounted on the sea floor aren’t likely to be struck by vessels, so they can be located in shallow water just outside of the low-tide breaking waves, where the swell will be strongest.  Protective mesh can prevent injury to passing sea life and human divers.  A small amount of the generated electric current can be directed to the surfaces of the equipment or the surrounding water, to keep barnacles and other pests off.
 
The survival of marker and weather buoys in almost all conditions suggests that surface-mounted generating equipment, too, can be feasible.  Some work is being done to design and test wave-powered generators.
 
Once available, swell and wave (especially swell) power will eventually be recognized as superior to solar and wind power.  However, if their development is slow, much will have been invested in solar and wind equipment and installation and in their associated high-voltage transmission lines, and more wildfires will have been caused by those lines, all of which will have been unnecessary.  Therefore, swell- and wave-generated power should quickly receive more research and development support – both financial and technical -- from public, business and nonprofit sources. 
 
On the other hand, swell and wave power will not be distributed, i.e., not located on-site at homes and other points of use.  That will reinforce our dependence on the electric utilities, thereby highlighting the issue of public ownership vs. regulated for-profit entities.  It will be better to deal with that issue than to develop and be stuck with a less efficient and more costly system, more vulnerable to power outages and more likely to cause wildfires.