Hawaii Looks to the Tides to Solve Our Energy Needs

“Hydrokinetic energy” might not immediately ring any bells to you, but if governments and private corporations around the world have their way, this technology will be coming to a beach near you.Efforts are well underway to find a financially feasible way to harness the constant power of the tides. For Hawaii, this could one day mean that over half of our power could come from the very same waves that already propel our ability to hang ten. In fact, the whole of the United States stands to enjoy this clean energy resource. Studies suggest that hydrokinetic projects in rivers and oceans can one day supplement over ten percent of our energy needs. Projects are well underway to assess the potential of this seemingly limitless supply of energy. One such project is currently in progress at the Bay of Fundy in Canada. While you may not consider Canada home to too many pounding swells, the Bay of Fundy actually has the highest tidal surge in the world. More water flows in and out of the Bay of Fundy each day than the combined flow of all of the world’s freshwater rivers. The Canadian government has taken a 75 million dollar step towards harnessing this amazing ebb and flow. Another project that is currently generating power for the US military, is a floating Hydrokinetic Buoy located nearly a mile off the shore of Oahu, Hawaii. On September the 27th the US military at Marine Corps Base Kaneohe Bay, connected Ocean Power Technologies’ Buoy to the power grid. The single fifty-five foot tall Buoy is said to generate enough electricity to fully power two homes. Robert Lurie, a vice president of the before mentioned Pennington, N.J based Ocean Power Technologies, touts his design as being a working and feasible demonstration of this tech. Plans are underway to expand this technology next spring. The waters off of Reedsport, Oregon will soon host a larger version of Hawaii’s buoy, that will hopefully help reach Laurie’s goal of having “mini wave farms” that can generate enough power to light up 50,000 homes. Like any new technology, Hydrokinetic energy harnessing comes with its difficulties. For one, the same amazing powers of the tide that we are trying to harness wreak havoc on energy conversion machinery. The monstrous pressure of the flowing tides and waves, combined with rust, mean that developing long term hydrokinetic installations will require significant upkeep. Until we can engineer devices that can withstand these forces, Hydrokinetic energy will remain commercially useless. Another problem with this technology is it’s as of yet not fully understood impact on the surrounding marine life. Fish and oceanic mammals are sure to get tangled in these devises, especially when we get to a point of their widespread use. Additionally, creatures like barnacles and even coral polyps are unlikely to recognize our energy generating contraptions as anything different from a nice place to anchor themselves. This will demand constant cleaning to prevent millions of dollars worth of machinery from becoming a floating coral reef. In spite of these hurtles, research on this energy project is certainly becoming a major focus of various governments. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission issued one hundred and forty preliminary permits to developers to go forth with research on this promising technology. This number is up significantly from last year when there were only a few permits handed out. The energy department recently provided thirty seven million dollars in grant funds allocated to first time companies with promising hydrokinetic energy prototypes. If all goes well, the oceans will soon be powering at least some of our energy demanding appliances in the near future. For now, testing will continue until we can develop this technology to a point where it can function in harmony with the environment and our wallets.

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