Ocean energy has been getting a bit of the old brush-off at the COP21 Paris climate talks, where global leaders have been looking mainly to solar, wind, nuclear energy, and natural gas for a way out of the Earth’s carbon overload. However, we’re thinking that ocean energy could play a larger role than expected, particularly when it comes to resolving the carbon-related problem of water scarcity.
Ocean Energy, Meet Hollywood
While ocean energy has been relegated to wallflower status at COP21, somewhat ironically it will get the full blown Hollywood treatment just a couple of days after the talks finish, as part of the National Geographic Channel’s Breakthrough series on next-generation technology.
If Carnegie Wave Energy rings a bell, you’re probably thinking of the Perth Wave Energy project in Australia covered by CleanTechnica last March. Consisting of three of the company’s CETO wave energy generators integrated with three six-ton underwater buoys that sway with the motion of subsurface swells, apparently this is the first wave energy project to be composed of multiple units connected in an array.
Actually, only two of the three units were up and running last March. The third was yet to be installed so just imagine our excitement when we screened an advance copy of Water Apocalypse (thanks, Rupert!) and Carnegie’s Perth project showed up with a live sequence of the third and final buoy being steered into place.
With that in mind, take a look at the nice schematic below:
That’s a nice schematic, right? But it doesn’t quite capture the drama of the whole thing. For that you can go to Water Apocalypse, in which thanks to the magic of filmmaking (the episode was directed by the amazing Angela Bassett) you can wake up before sunrise in time to catch a boat out to the site at daybreak, meet the crew and the engineers, put on a wetsuit, and prepare to go to the rescue if things go awry during the final nerve-wracking moments as the massive buoy drops slowly toward its target.
We’re not giving anything away so if you want to know what happens next, go see the show. You’ll also get up-close looks at a solar powered desalination/water purification plant for a California farm and a delicate dew-collecting bamboo tower for an Ethiopian village, among other innovative projects.
Getting back around to COP21, the main point of Water Apocalypse is that in order to provide for the potable water needs of the Earth’s burgeoning population, we need to get cracking on new ways to re-use and purify non-potable water. All that takes a lot of energy, and renewables offer a way to get the job done without increasing carbon emissions.
The Other Breakthrough
That brings us back around to the role of nuclear energy in global carbon management.
Last week, billionaire Bill Gates grabbed the COP21 spotlight with a high profile launch for his new A-list tech investor group, the Breakthrough Energy Coalition (no relation to the Breakthrough series as far as we know), which appears to be focused partly on accelerating Gates’s global nuclear energy interests.
That kind of centralized approach to energy generation only tells part of the story, though. As portrayed in Water Apocalypse, small scale on-site renewable energy generation and local community solutions also have a major role to play. The bamboo dew collector, for example, was constructed with local residents using local materials, with the aim of teaching other nearby communities to build their own water supply.
By the way, if you look at the Gates/Breakthrough investor list, Elon Musk of Tesla Motors is conspicuously absent. We’re guessing that’s because Musk’s SpaceX venture is one of the forces behind another A-List tech investor group, the Founders Fund, which is backing another nuclear startup called Transatomic.
Ocean Energy And The US Navy
Speaking of on-site energy generation, the Perth ocean energy project featured in Water Apocalypse is aimed specifically at providing electricity and zero-emission water desalination for HMAS Stirling, the largest naval base in Australia.
Over here in the US, the Navy and Marine Corps have also been pushing for ocean energy, most notably with a recent upgrade and expansion of a wave energy test site at Marine Corps Base Hawaii, which became home to the nation’s first grid-connected wave energy system back in 2010.
In 2012 the Navy ramped up its interest in the whole gamut of ocean energy potential with a two-day conference that explored wave energy along with thermal energy conversion systems, tidal and current-based systems, and ocean compressed air energy storage. The Navy also lumps offshore wind energy into its wish list of ocean energy resources, so stay tuned.
Image credits (both): via Carnegie Wave Energy.