Watts in the Water
Our oceans contain enough energy to power the planet—if we could just get our hands on it.
Another innovative scheme to draw power from the sea is through underwater kites placed in ocean currents. The idea is to harness the energy produced as the water perpetually pushes the kites into figure-eight patterns. Video courtesy of Minesto
Edinburgh isn’t known as a hotbed of industrial espionage. But one cool and quiet spring night in the Scottish city, a high-stakes burglary was underway. Down at the old port district of Leith, thieves breached a perimeter fence and broke into the offices of a company called Pelamis Wave Power. They homed in on four laptop computers and walked right past much more expensive equipment. Pelamis, at the time (March of 2011), was riding a wave of good fortune. Company engineers had produced the first commercial-scale machine for extracting energy from waves, vaulting Pelamis to top-dog status in the marine-energy industry. Already there was interest from several European utility companies, and a Portuguese company had placed an order. So promising was the technology that just two months earlier, a delegation of 60 Chinese officials had paid a visit, with a juicy investment deal presumably in the balance. The world was getting excited about wave power. The visitors donned white hard hats and Pelamis founder and director Richard Yemm led Li Keqiang, the vice premier of China (now premier), and his charges across the factory floor during a key phase of production. Yemm was likely thinking only of the dizzying future on the other side of so much hard work, so many stillborn dreams. Protecting his company’s valuable intellectual property was not top of mind.
Yemm’s optimism was justified. At some point in 2013, the world’s energy scales tipped: for the first time, more new energy was produced by renewables than by fossil fuels. The shift is officially on. North Sea oil rigs are being dismantled. The run of coal as energy champion of Europe is over, and plans for hundreds of new coal plants across Asia have been shelved. The business case for solar is solid. One hundred percent of Dutch trains run on wind. Google just announced that its server farms and offices will be powered entirely by renewables—mostly wind and solar—by the end of 2017.
And ocean power?
Close to 200 trillion watts of kinetic energy lurk in the seas: more than enough to power the planet, if we could somehow extract it all.