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Concentration of CO2 in the Atmosphere

Power Systems Float

Evopod tidal generator, fully installed. The rushing water provides power. (Ocean Flow Energy Ltd)

J. D. Kaplan

The age of green energy and sustainable human life will require a leap of faith from us. So, as a counterweight to the difficulties of global cooperation, I’d like to offer G.E.T. readers a high-altitude snapshot of two bright areas of progress. Both are relevant for the central aim of decarbonization, but for different reasons.

I. SUBMERGED TURBINES

Much of the world’s hydroelectric power is generated at plants where the water is blocked up. Earth-minded media (e.g., Patagonia, Terra Mater via undecidedmf YouTube channels) report a resistance against modern dams among the eco-friendly. Tens of thousands of dams exist around the globe, and the pattern of deployment has matured to reflect the concerns, but it continues. My sense is that people are tired of seeing dams built even if the carbon balance doesn’t turn out detrimental.

If NASA can make errors in space navigation owing to unit conversion failures, math mistakes can plague ecologists. It is carbon accounting we’re contemplating, which is a certifiable mess right now. Thus, zooming out a level will help. Technologies that require the practice of massively changing Earth’s landscape should really take a back seat to means that don’t. If we see progress among submerged power generators in the coming years, this option is within sight.

There is a tidal lagoon system proposed for Swansea Bay in Wales. It will be capable of generating 320MW at maximum production. This is a ‘pathfinder’ project, and there are several other ambitious tidal systems imagined by the same group (https://bit.ly/SwanseaBay_Tidallagoonpower).

I suggest viewing the Undecided channel with Matt Ferrell on YouTube for his reportage on tidal power and for his other energy-related entries (https://bit.ly/undecidedmf_tidalpower-explained).

Tidal Energy Ltd, DeltaStream installation in Ramsey Sound, Pembs 2015. (Wikimedia, RebeccaLouiseJones)

The Patagonia channel has some quality work as well, including full-length documentary films relating to these topics. Their recent book, Waves and Beaches by authors Bascom and McCoy is top notch publishing.

II. THE 800-FOOT POWER PLANT

I live in a windy place. This audible arm of Mother Nature has drawn my attention for all the years that have elapsed since I landed here at the coast of Massachusetts. As a participant in the massive deployment of wind power generation, we’re a spectacle of anchor dragging.

Cape Wind offers a wonderfully frustrating case study in sustainability progress. Such a simple step forward as to plant some windmills halfway out to sea to augment our electric grid blossomed into a contentious fight, putting property rights up there with actual impacts (e.g., bats, lobster meat). Eventually, everyone agreed to move on. The Cape Wind project effort collapsed only 17 years after proposal.

It is now succeeded by several, including one called Mayflower Wind, which will be farther offshore and will use bigger turbines. The total generation capacity is much greater. I presume the same for the paperwork (https://bit.ly/boem_MA_RenewableEnergyProjects and https://bit.ly/boem_MA_WindProjects).

Problems of scale would always hold down the deployment of a big generator, but some peculiar ones keep offshore windmills off the investment slate. The installation of utility scale windmills has, to this point, depended upon special hardware, including ships dedicated to the task. (If you are incredulous, search for turbine installation vessel.) The cutting edge General Electric nacelles that claim to lead the industry in capacity factor—being as green as advertised—stand on 500-foot towers, for example. Bringing this out to a construction site several miles into the ocean is a very special task, indeed (https://invent.ge/3620NMG).

Planting this monstrous metal giraffe to the sea floor isn’t easy, either. In fact, this leads to a core limitation of offshore wind power development: it must be grounded in shallow sea. Without a nice, long, relatively flat sea bed extending miles from the coast, there is no place for permanent installations of any kind. Bathymetry presents this as a major regional constraint. The New England coastline has a good shelf before dropping off into an unbuildable abyss, but many do not.

The active projects succeeding the forgone Cape Wind dream will ensure that we shall have our supersized windmills after all. The excruciating pace of this progress is ugly, but only reveals part of our problem. To deploy renewables en masse across our entire civilization, engineered solutions to surmount limitations put in place by nature are just as important as meeting funding, finance, and bureaucratic challenges. The administrative goal of 30GW of generation capacity offshore may well be met within the Biden Administration’s ten-year time frame, but this is a very small, specific set of plans within the grand scope of global power generation.

J. D. Kaplan is a certified remote pilot and a former member of the I.T. crowd. He is a reader in the areas of bioelectromagnetics and cryptocurrency. Mr. Kaplan plans to profile blockchain & crypto-mining activity around the energy sector. He lives and works at or above sea level near Boston, MA.

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