J. D. Kaplan
The sea-town I live and work in has an impressive history of bold action, at least to me. First, we invented the life-saver, and began floating stranded seamen back to shore when their boats were marooned, or worse. This activity took root as budgets for special equipment and personnel were allocated, and permanent stations were built expressly to counter the losses observed among rocky shorelines and storms. Boston Harbor and its surrounding isles, littered with drumlins and plagued with, say, spotty weather, had proved unusually murderous.
According to Hull Lifesaving Museum, until about 1900, all ships bound for a port in Boston, including a daily trickle of “coasting schooners carrying lumber, coal, plaster, and other industrial goods,” had only one navigational option. It was “the only natural channel deep enough to accommodate large vessels.” This killer race-route inspired a host of inventions in addition to the ’life ring,’ the lifesaver.
Next, we became the first town on the eastern seaboard to sport a commercial wind turbine. It is a Vestas unit that has possibly generated stronger returns advocating renewables than actual electric power output. It can make 600kW, great for its age, and stands at the very tip of a long peninsula that sticks out into Boston Harbor. It has been visible for miles, twenty years running.
Thus, my community became a green power advocate somewhat early on. Now, as the offshore projects step forward and bureaucrats inch frustratingly toward permits and licenses, we wait in earnest for a federal infrastructure funding act to break itself out of gridlock. The second appearance of a heat dome in North America may yet open the eyes of politicos who look through a power lens, say, at the planetary emergency and just see nothing. Any temperature reading that can lead to dozens of bodies being rolled out of homes in a first-world country ought to make even reactionary jaws drop. This is a disaster without a single clap of thunder, without wind knocking things around or even a lick of ground shaking.
Such is the reading our newsies reflect to us midsummer, as G.E.T. goes again to print. Following this season, we may look forward to trillions in official funds moving in the right direction. It would amount to the biggest response to climate by the U.S. government so far.
Glacial progress will have led to such a crescendo. Meanwhile, a moderate mudslide of seed funds have been awarded to advance the readiness of industry to decarbonize proactively. Small business innovation funding has been operating since a legislative mandate circa 1982, when the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program was established.
The SBIR is detailed at sbir.gov and the full history of its funding is searchable. However, G.E.T. readers might really dig the EERE (https://bit.ly/2VloDgP) and their Water Power Tech Office (https://bit.ly/37mqkxD). These folks are your family.
Every arm of the executive with a budget big enough is required to set aside a small portion of that budget for this technology seed-funding purpose. Eleven agencies, the SBIR site reports, qualify under this rule, and thus spend 3.2% of their hundreds of millions awarding companies like Aegis and Bioenno funding for the projects that we need, in order to “stimulate technologic innovation.” There was no Sustainable Development Goals list in 1982, but its message and attitude have long-since taken root, and this results in many, many projects designed to put our renewable-energy convictions to the test.
Further, given that we’re not alone in this general endeavor—several countries have been spending big for decades to harness the tides and associated flows—the SBIR has opted to support a clever diversity of 21st-century project goals. This will include mapping the seafloor to provide clear answers to our concerns over living habitats near power installations, for example, and floating wave energy converters (WECs) to support buoys and other sensor-equipped hardware that will actively monitor the ocean’s activity. These are pursuits that can help with monitoring climate change long-term, in addition to weather prediction and emergency warning systems. See (https://bit.ly/3lb1Ejq) for details on these and many more. An aside: my favorites are those addressing corrosion, since that is such a problem for marine engineering—or even for homes near the ocean.
In Hull, within eyeshot of an operational U.S. Coast Guard station, engineers from Aegis and Bioenno will drop a turbine system into the water to generate power from the moving tide. Once the unit has operated well enough to show that it can make juice reliably and without disturbing anything else (lobstermen, for example, or some pesky ecosystem, or whatever), the unit will come out of the water and be replaced by- well, phase two.
By phase three, I’m told, power output will approach utility scale, at least at its relative size. Tens of kilowatts are possible from units sized only around 6 meters cubed—or even less.
This is but one example of the richness of progress SBIR has made possible. Let us hope that with or without a six trillion-dollar tsunami, we will have our homes and vehicles powered by brilliant, resilient systems such as what we’ll be seeing tested in Massachusetts Bay in the last days of summer. It’s a system that has been conceived and deployed with all that we’ve learned from Mother Nature and the weather machine well in place. The systems of yesteryear … weren’t.
Today we have the Coast Guard. Tomorrow, the tide and swells may feed the grid just as smoothly as a coal plant, sans the noxious bits and particulate matter. It will only breathe with the Earth.
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. For G.E.T. readers, Mr. Kaplan will continue to profile blockchain activity within the energy sector. He lives and works at or above sea level near Boston, MA.