Monday, January 08, 2007

more free energy

I just realized that this idea of "free energy" may be misleading... technically speaking a hydro-electric plant is free energy in that the company is simply harnessing the power of the water via a damn to creat energy then selling it to the users. Hmm, pretty good deal for them huh. Well, There's been mention of this idea before, and I think it's a GREAT idea... to harness the power from the ocean via the ups and down of either waves of tides. This guy over on the MAKE magazine site has made his own prototype and it works pretty well. (though one person claims it's only genereating a minuscule amount of power). The real point of this though is that it can be scaled up and used to create continuous power, and cleanly too! I think this is the answer in the future that there will be large off shore power plants that are anchored to the ocean floor yet bob up and down on the tidal flow. Here's the link to the make site.


tcygan said...

You're right in that there is no such thing as 'free energy'; atleast not at the moment. I don't think your inference that hydro is "a pretty good deal" for utility companies is entirely accurate or complete. The capital costs of hydro generation are enormous and compounded by investments to address and mitigate any potential environmental concerns. Hydro can be a terrific investment, but there are significant development, investment and operational risks. Actually getting through all of the environmental issues, permits, licenses, financing and community acceptance (which includes any affected special interest group) and actually building a plant is no guarantee it will survive the next FERC licensing renewal (with or without significant additional investments to address special interests and any newly discovered or percieved environmental impacts). Public policies sway with emotions and emotions can turn rapidly on a facility, let alone an industry. As such, the investment in hydro can range from very good to insufficient.
In terms of tidal energy projects, there is promise, but like wind, we have yet to see all the thorny issues that will rear their heads when these technologies develop and these facilities get built. There will be environmental concerns over any seabed anchoring, breeding grounds of marine life, marine vessel/navigation hazards, homeland security, fishing industry, protected species, disturbed ocean environments and all manner of issues. Like wind energy, a much longed-for source, environmental groups will divide among themselves on the benefits and damages and will not be in agreement. The role of these groups as a public check & balance will become muddy and without a cohesive, clear consensus on merits/damages. Costs will be driven up (in some aspects appropriately so, in other aspects not). The economics of the generation will become hinged on subsidies and tax credits, as they are now (as is appropriate to force developing technologies), but may remain so. And the most interesting aspect will be whether the public actually accepts it. For true acceptance (acceptance vs. want) the average consumer must be willing to select and choose alternative power sources AND be willing to pay the additional costs in the monthly bill.
No, I do not work for a utility, but admittedly, as an employee of a construction firm that constructs generation facilities (alternative, renewable and traditional fossil), I watch this industry closely and try to keep up with developments and trends which are influenced by public policy, consumer acceptance and technology development. I am not an expert but am somewhat informed and my opinions are based thusly. It is a topic that I do have some passion for, and I am an advocate for the continued development of alternative and renewable energy sources. I am also an advocate for nuclear in the interim as a "bridge" energy source from today to a future point in time...hopefully not too distant.

cyen said...

Thanks so much for the comment tcygan. It's obvious you have much more knowledge than I in regards to these matters. I guess I mean "a pretty good deal" in the sense that once all those topics you mentioned are taken care of (the building, the damn, the licenses, the permits, the public opinion, etc...) At that point it must be a pretty good deal in that once the electricity is flowing, so then too does the money.
I also think that the environmental impact from the ocean bound energy plants would be much less hurtful than the current coal/oil, hydro, and even wind farms. You're right though, someone somewhere will be upset. But I think the power stored in the ocean is just a source waiting to be tapped. To see a couple of average joe's building one in their garage is very encouraging to me.
Thanks again for your in-depth input. I learned something which is always good :)